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Jeff Capel looks to be the coach the Panthers have needed

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NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The University of Pittsburgh has always been run by its football program, just like most NCAA schools. But from the 1990s on, it has arguably been a basketball school. In the late 2000s Pitt was at its pinnacle in terms of its basketball program.

However, in recent years, that program has had a major fall from grace. Under Kevin Stallings, the Panthers had a miserable season, going 8 – 24 with a 0 – 18 record in the ACC. After that season, the decision was reached to relieve Stallings of his duties as head coach. This was the best decision for the longevity of the Panthers basketball program. The Panthers held an extensive search for head coach and finally signed Duke assistant Jeff Capel. Capel was a pick highly received by the Pitt brass, the fanbase, and the media.

Capel had a successful history as an assistant at Duke, joining the program in 2011 as an assistant, and staying there until his departure to become the Panthers head coach in 2018. This history at Duke opened the ability for recruiting to expand further into the South.

As Capel’s first season as the head coach of the Panthers approached, there was much optimism about what he could do with this program. Then again, there had to be optimism after the 8 – 24 (0 – 18 in ACC) record that the Panthers had in the 2017 – 2018 season. The 2018 – 2019 season got off to a better start than anyone could have imagined with six straight wins. By the end of the non-conference schedule the Panthers would have a 10 – 3 record. That is where the excitement would end for this season, though. During the ACC portion of the schedule, the Panthers would only win two of their 17 games. Fans of the Panthers did not lose sight of Capel’s abilities and were able to look forward to the following season.

The 2019 – 2020 season was the first season that showed Capel’s plan to lead the Panthers to a National Championship. While the 16 – 17 (6 – 14 in ACC) record was not stellar, it was an improvement. This improved record led the Panthers into the ACC Tournament. The 13th ranked Panthers entered the Tournament and immediately defeated the 12thranked Wake Forest Demon Deacons 81 – 72. Their run in the Tournament would be very short-lived as the Panthers would be bounced in the second round by the 5th ranked NC State Wolfpack by a score of 73 – 57.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Tournament-North Carolina State vs Pittsburgh Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Capel so far has shown his worth in the 2020 – 2021 season with a 6 -2 (2 -1 in ACC) record to date. He currently has the Panthers ranked 6th in the ACC standings with many games left to go in this season.

The biggest question this season is if Capel can keep the Panthers at a high level all season long or will there be a drop off? Only time will tell. Regardless, he has had a positive effect on the Panthers program and if he can keep this going in the right direction, he very well could lead the Panthers to a deep run in the ACC Tournament. And, for the first time in a while, even into March Madness.