Sports Illustrated released its preseason ranking of the 353 Division I men’s basketball teams Wednesday, and although the publication’s estimation of Pitt’s potential improved over the past year, the Panthers still were still placed outside of the top 200 teams in the nation.
Specifically, Pitt was ranked 206th ahead of the 2018-19 season after being ranked 212th before the 2017-18 season. While that may sound like minimal progress amid the fervor surrounding Jeff Capel’s arrival as Pitt’s new head coach, it’s worth noting that last year’s ranking proved too optimistic, as the Panthers went 8-24, finishing 324th of 351 teams.
Given that, it should not be thought of as a six-spot bump, but as a 118-spot improvement. And the prediction seems even more optimistic when considering that one of the teams that tied for 206th last season was a respectable Northwestern squad that went 15-17, including a 6-12 showing in the Big Ten. If Pitt could replicate those results, that would constitute solid progress.
What’s particularly intriguing about the Sports Illustrated ranking, though, is that it happens to be among the most pessimistic from notable media outlets. CBS Sports has Pitt finishing 150th, while Ken Pomeroy holds Capel and the Panthers in even higher esteem, placing them at 139th. No team that finished within that range had a losing record, and win totals ranged from 17 to 22.
A truly optimistic ranking by Hero Sports predicts that Pitt will finish 127th this season. However, that ranking shares one thing in common with all the others, as it shows the Panthers finishing in last place in the ACC. Emily Caron of Sports Illustrated elaborated on Pitt’s ACC placement.
“Pittsburgh failed to secure even a single conference win in 2017–18, but the arrival of Jeff Capel should provide reason for a cautious optimism. Capel convinced several talented transfers to join the Panthers along with two four-star guards who reclassified to play for Pitt a year earlier than expected. How that plays out in the backcourt is yet to be seen, but with solid starters returning on the wing, Pittsburgh should see improvements this season — even if that still means only a few ACC wins.”
The bottom line is that Pitt is unanimously expected to improve on last season’s performance. However, the sticking point for most analysts is the combination of a tough conference schedule and a young roster. That figures to derail the team to some extent come January 2019, but with St. John’s transfer Malik Ellison leading incoming four stars, Pitt may make strides in the ACC.