I Owe Pitt Head Coach Jeff Capel an Apology

Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

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I owe Jeff Capel an apology.  I am not the only one, but I’m going to use this space to make my personal apology to Pitt Panther head coach Jeff Capel.  Specifically, on January 24th, my sister’s birthday in fact, I called for Capel’s job.

I am typically level-headed.  I don’t call for a man’s job after each loss like most Steeler fans do for Tomlin or Panther fans with Capel.  I also don’t get overly worked up over a win streak and deem my teams early season champs if they come out of the gate hot.  However, I was unfair to Jeff Capel.

I was downplaying the true trials and tribulations that this team has gone through all season, in part through no fault of Capel.  I use the word trials literally as last night’s game highlighted the return of Ithiel Horton.  It was not Horton’s first game back, but it showed what this Panther offense could have been had he been playing all season. 

Last night, the Pitt Panthers blew the roof off of Dean E. Smith Center and dominated the North Carolina Tar Heels.  The final score was just a 9-point margin, however, that does not tell the whole story.  At halftime Pitt was up 40-23.  At one point the Pitt lead got as high as 21 points, and the Tar Heels never brought it to within less than six points in the 2nd half.  At one point, Pitt was on the right side of a 21-2 run.  That just hasn’t happened since Pitt joined the ACC.

There were some white-knuckle moments where Pitt fans were gripping the edge of their seat, but from an objective standpoint, the Panthers blew the Tar Heels out.  Especially with Pitt being a 14-point underdog at tip off, on the road in one of the hardest places to play.  It was a great performance all around.  It was also the first time Pitt has won three games in a row in conference play since their first season in the ACC back in 2013-14.

The, aforementioned, Horton led the team with 19 points.  This was aided by him being a perfect 5-5 from 3-point range and 4-4 from the free throw line.  Big man John Hugley added 18 points and senior Jamarius Burton took a ton of offensive fouls to end Tar Heel possessions and create some foul trouble for North Carolina.  Mouhamadou Gueye and Femi Odukale also added from 3-point range, beating any attempt for the Tar Heels to play a zone defense.  Every starter showed up and balled out for the Panthers.  It was as if I was watching a different team.

However, it also really showed what this team could have been.  As most know, Horton was suspended much of this season due to legal trouble.  He settled, and is finally back full-time with the Panthers.

Horton’s ability to shoot the ball from three not only adds to the scoreboard for Pitt, but it opens up possibilities for everyone around him.  Without Horton on the floor, opposing defenses knew they could double team Hugley underneath without worry, and Pitt was depending on lesser shooters like Gueye and Odukale for points.  Gueye and Odukale can have their good games from beyond the arc, but nothing near the rate of Horton.  Now the Panthers have a legitimate deep threat that totally restructures the opponent’s defensive game plan.

Additionally, with both Horton and Odukale playing 40 minutes last night, and Burton playing for 38 of 40, it reminds of the little depth the Panthers have.  This is due in large part to the season-ending injury that Nike Sibande suffered before the regular season even started.  If the Panthers had their senior guard, even for just the close losses sustained by Pitt early in their ACC schedule, the story of this season could be completely different.

So last night humbled me.  It reminded me that Jeff Capel did not have a team at full strength for this entire season.  However, even just adding one good shooter from behind the arc showed how much better this team could have been.  I am sorry Jeff Capel.  I should have respected the handcuffs that were on this team from the beginning.  However, last night does not absolve all the troubles this team has had for four years.  I still need to see continued improvement and a better team next season.