On Tuesday night, there will be a familiar face opposite the Duke Basketball team and it’s Jeff Capel who has brought a new life to the Pittsburgh Basketball program.
For the past few years the Pittsburgh Panthers Basketball program has been the laughing stock of the ACC and one of the least respected programs in all of the country.
Just a few years ago Pittsburgh was an ‘Old-School Big East’ team that would make you fight and claw for 40 minutes under former Head Coach Jamie Dixon.
Since the transition to the ACC, Pittsburgh has yet to find that toughness the program once had but now in its first year with Jeff Capel at the helm of the program, the former Duke player and Associate Head Coach is bring the Panthers back to prominence.
Capel led the Panthers to a 6-0 start to begin the season, but after a crushing one point loss on the road to the then No. 14 Iowa Hawkeyes, Pittsburgh would respond by defeating Duquesne by 21 points at home.
Pittsburgh would then have a very bad home loss by one point against Niagara, followed by a ten point loss on the road against West Virginia.
When a Pittsburgh team of years past may have folded, Jeff Capel rallied his team to finish the non-conference schedule strong, winning its last three games.
This young and inexperienced Pittsburgh team had its eyes opened as ACC play started when the then No. 15 North Carolina Tar Heels came up to the Peterson Events Center and rolled the Panthers by 25 points, 85-60.
However, Capel’s team would respond again by defeating Louisville, who cracked the AP Top-25 this week, by three points in overtime.
Things didn’t get easier for Pittsburgh as the Panthers had to hit the road for the first time in conference play, taking on the then No. 16 North Carolina State Wolfpack. Capel’s team fought hard and resiliently, losing only by six points.
As the Panthers returned home, the then No. 11 Florida State Seminoles were awaiting them, coming off a loss in the final seconds to the Blue Devils.
Pittsburgh was tougher, stronger, and just better than the Seminoles this night, running Florida State out of town in the second half and cruising to a 75-62 victory.
In its last game before the showdown with the No. 2 Blue Devils on Tuesday night, the Panthers fell on the road in the Carrier Dome, 74-63, to the Syracuse Orange.
The Panthers are led by freshman Xavier Johnson, who has averaged 17.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 4.6 assists this season, while shooting 46.3% from the floor and 40.3% from 3-point range.
Fellow freshman Trey McGowens has also been a focal point of the Pittsburgh offense, averaging 13.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.1 assists, to go with a 43.3% shooting percentage and shooting 33.3% from 3-point range.
The veteran on this Pittsburgh team is Jared Wilson-Frame, the lone senior who receives substantial minutes on this Panthers team.
While Wilson-Frame’s scoring numbers have dropped in his second year with the Panthers, he has become much more efficient when he’s on the floor.
Last season, Jared Wilson-Frame averaged 13.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game, while shooting 37.5% from the field and 32.0% from 3-point range.
This season Wilson-Frame is averaging 11.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game, but shooting 40.5% from the field and 36.7% from 3-point range.
While Jeff Capel doesn’t quite yet have the talent that he hopes to have in the future at Pittsburgh, he is showing that he can motivate and lead a group of men and get the best out of each individual player and the best out of his team.
Jeff Capel’s Pittsburgh Panthers will host his mentor Mike Krzyzewski‘s Duke Blue Devils at 9:00 pm ET on Tuesday night from the Petersen Events Center and can be seen live on ESPN.