Pitt’s basketball team won its opener over Youngstown State earlier this week, 69-53. With a young team, I’d generally be pretty satisfied with non-conference wins like that. Today, though, the Panthers absolutely obliterated their opponent, cruising to a 94-55 win over VMI.
I didn’t catch the first half but Pitt didn’t slow down in the second, growing an 18-point lead to 40 at one point.
Freshman guard Trey McGowens dazzled in the opener but had a rough night shooting only 2-8 for four points. But he had plenty of help and Pitt had no trouble with VMI.
The biggest difference from the opener is that Jared Wilson-Frame returned after being suspended in the opener. He led the team in scoring with 20 points on 6-10 shooting, including 5-9 from three-point range. Wilson-Frame came off the bench but we’ll see if that continues. Freshman Xavier Johnson had another great game with 14 points and a team-high ten assists. Pitt also got 14 from freshman Audiese Toney.
The focus so far has been on the one-two punch provided by McGowens and Johnson, but Toney is quietly looking very good, too, with double digits in both games.
We’ve obviously got to temper expectations so far because of the competition but to win any game by 39 points with such a young group is encouraging. It’s only been two games, but a few things are sticking out. For one thing, McGowens and Johnson bring a different type of athleticism than what Marcus Carr and Parker Stewart did as true freshmen last year. All four should be pretty good players but I think McGowens and Johnson have a different skill set which will allow them to do more things. Those guys can get to the basket more easily and, ultimately, could be the better players.
Second, this team as a whole looks upgraded from last year’s group. We’re going to have to see if that continues but the Panthers didn’t have this kind of success against anyone last year. Their biggest margin of victory last season was 21 points against McNeese State and five of their eight victories were only by single digits. Pitt has already looked much more impressive this year and, while that may not translate into a .500 team or anything, this group could overachieve a little based on where they’re projected to be.
Looking to the future this year, I think the lack of big men will eventually catch up to them. They’re often playing four guards out there and their biggest frontcourt presence has been Kene Chukwuka - a 6’9” who plays a lot like a guard. I’ll take the formula for winning any way I can and there’s not much Capel can do right now just because it’s a guard-heavy roster. But I do think that, particularly on the defensive end against bigger teams, will be an issue.
Pitt is playing bigs Terrell Brown and Peace Ilegomah (Ilegomah actually played more than Brown tonight), but sparingly. I initially thought Brown would be a critical piece for this team but, so far, that has not yet played out. Brown, Ilegomah, or some combination thereof, will almost certainly have to be more of a factor going forward because the competition is only going to get bigger.
Still, it’s hard to imagine any fan not signing up for a 2-0 start while winning comfortably vs. the 0-2 start the team suffered last year. Now, the teams Pitt faced then, Navy and Montana, were a significant upgrade over what this year’s first two opponents will likely be this season, as both were 20-win teams. Montana, in particular, won 25 games and reached the NCAAs. Because of that, I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to put these two starts together and compare the two on equal footing. But, if nothing else, this looks like a team that will win more than eight games this season and hopefully revive what had become a pretty dormant fanbase.
Next up is a game Monday night against Troy.