When Jeff Capel took the Pittsburgh head coaching job at the end of March, he knew there would be no quick fix.
And he believed Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke and chancellor Patrick Gallagher understood the same.
The Panthers won just eight games during the 2017-18 season and went 0-18 in the ACC. That led to Kevin Stallings’ firing and a mini-exodus of players transferring from the university.
“If you go to a program that’s going through difficult times, maybe they’ll be a bit more lenient with you. That they understand – or you hope they understand – that it’s not going to happen overnight,” Capel told The Undefeated.
“For me, I wanted to work with people who I know would be in that foxhole with me. And who believed in me. That’s what I found with Heather and Chancellor Gallagher.”
Once Stallings was out, nine Pitt players announced their intentions to leave the school.
Capel, according The Athletic, had the same message for each player: “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you.”
Six of those players, including last season’s leading scorer, Jared Wilson-Frame, chose to remain at Pitt. And Capel, despite the late start, was able to secure the school’s best recruiting class in five years.
Heading into their week off for finals, the Panthers are a surprising 7-3, one win short of equaling last season’s total. They won their first six games – including a 75-73 victory over presumptive Atlantic 10 favorite Saint Louis – and had a chance in the closing seconds to win at then-No. 14 Iowa before falling, 69-68.
So, while there have been hiccups – a 71-70 home loss to Niagara, a five-point win as a 20-point favorite against North Alabama – and the looming ACC schedule features 10 games against teams currently in the top 13 in the Associated Press poll, Capel’s rebuild appears to be ahead of schedule.
Pitt, which was 227th last season in KenPom.com’s efficiency ratings, is currently No. 113 (No. 60 on defense) and has held opponents under one point per possession six times this season. Five times the Panthers have held opponents to less than 37 percent shooting.
Coppin State at UNC Greensboro: Coppin State is 0-10 and ranked No. 351 (out of 353) in the nation by KenPom, and UNC Greensboro has lost only to LSU and Kentucky, but, according to Massey Ratings, this line could be in the mid-30s. That’s too many points. COPPIN STATE
South Dakota State at Nevada: This battle of top-30 offenses is actually one of the toughest remaining on the Wolf Pack schedule. The Jackrabbits’ NBA prospect Mike Daum (No. 6) and sophomore Mike Jenkins are both in the top 22 in scoring in the nation. SOUTH DAKOTA STATE
Texas A&M at Oregon State: The Aggies are just 1-6 ATS to start the season, while the Beavers are 6-2 overall and might be a home ’dog. OREGON STATE
Saint Mary’s vs. LSU (At Las Vegas): The Gaels appear to have righted themselves after a four-game losing streak that included games against Harvard and UC Irvine. They’ve averaged better than 85 points per game since then and face a Tigers team at T-Mobile Arena that is 1-2 away from home. SAINT MARYS
Last week: 1-2-1