Bill Neal: By all accounts, Pitt had a good season! Here’s to many more!

PITT’S NELLY CUMMINGS has been a bright spot on the Panthers this season. (Photo by Vince Butts)

:10—The Pitt Panthers finished the season with a second round loss to the Xavier Musketeers in the NCAA Tournament, 84-73, but by any measure this was a very successful season. They made it to the second round with a cast led by Coach Jeff Capel, only their second appearance in the last 7 years, and in all honesty they were probably between the 25th to 32nd best team in the nation so the outcome was appropriate. Xavier, led by hometown great, Coach Sean Miller, are a superior team, as their 27-9 record speaks to such a conclusion. They were more physical and better at shooting 3s and could seriously make a deep run in the tournament. But this is not about Xavier, this is about a team that was supposed to be dead in the water before the season started, a team with not enough talent to make a dent in the ACC. Well, what a difference a day makes!

:09—Jamarius Burton. Greg Elliott. Nelly Cummings. Nike Sibande. Remember the names, the seniors that were a big part of the success of the 2022-2023 Pitt men’s basketball program. Jamarius Burton was a well-deserved first-team All-ACC and a pro career is in his future. These men have set the stage for the future, for the program-building mission Coach Capel is on, and for a return to the NCAA Tournament each and every season as we had grown accustomed to under former Coach Jaime Dixon. Coach Capel, winner of Coach of the Year honors in the ACC and in the discussion for National Coach of the Year recognition, stated he will look anywhere and everywhere to replace his four seniors but it has to be done with the right people to continue their run of success. As demonstrated with the use of the transfer portal system last year, the Panthers are very capable of reloading their roster to assist leading scorer Blake Hinson and make a deeper run in next year’s ACC and NCAA tournaments.

:08—The Panthers jumped from 11 victories in the 2021-2022 season to 24 victories this season and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2013-2014 season. This speaks volumes for the way the team believed in Coach Jeff Capel’s ideas and system. After stints as VCU Head Coach from 2002-2006 and Head Coach of Oklahoma from 2006 to 2011, Coach Capel joined legendary Coach Mike Krzwzewski’s staff as an assistant coach at Duke in May 2011, and was then promoted to Associate Head Coach in April 2014. Hired by Pitt in March 2018, this season has been the culmination of Coach Capel’s hard work and focus on winning and I expect nothing less moving forward with his system now fully in place and with the players he has brought and will continue to bring to the program.

:07—Watching the game from the luxury of my home on the big screen TV, I had a thought about halfway through the first half, and feel free to disagree if you like, but wouldn’t it have been nice to have been able to feed a big man inside when the 3-point shooting was less than stellar? A few easy inside buckets slammed down by a 6-11, 255-pound center could have been a game-changer. Old school basketball 101. I’m just sayin’. And yes, it would have helped if Federiko Federiko had been able to play more than the one minute Sunday due to his knee injury.

:06—One last thing. With four-star recruit Dior Johnson, Coach Capel’s highest-rated recruit redshirting the season, Pitt will enter next season with one of the finest guards in all the country without having to look further than their own gym. Dior Johnson has all the talent to be a difference-maker for Pitt and take them to the next level with the right combination of talent and returning scorer Blake Hinson. Watch out, ACC, and the rest of the NCAA, Pitt is back and coming on even stronger next season, baby!!!

:05—Switching over to Duquesne basketball for just a second, the Dukes dropped their first-round game in the CBI opener to Rice, 84-78, but the Dukes still ended up 20-13 under Head Coach Keith Dambrot and despite a late season swoon Coach Dambrot said, “We didn’t play very good at the end of the year…, and we didn’t quite get what we wanted. But overall, we’re in good shape.” Despite a few players already entering the NCAA transfer portal, Coach Dambrot hopes to retain most of the core of this season’s team and bring in a few players to aid his roster and make another leap forward next season.

:04—We’d be remiss, and by that I mean me, if we didn’t mention all the free agent signings your Pittsburgh Steelers have made since last week, most notably signing Isaac Seumalo, 6-foot-4, 303-pound Guard from the Philadelphia Eagles, rated the ninth-best guard in all of football last season and veteran Guard Nate Herbig, 6-foot-4, 334-pound free agent from the Jets last season and teammate of Seumalo with the Eagles from 2019-2021, a nice symmetry that will definitely help fit them seamlessly into the lineup together. Plus the addition of eight-time Pro Bowl CB Patrick Peterson to replace Cam Sutton is a no-brainer. Peterson, although 32 years old, is still mighty capable of holding down his side of the field ably and is a terrific signing.

:03—The Penguins, up and down, up and down, may or may not make the playoffs but if they do I don’t see them once again getting out of the first round of the playoffs unfortunately. The “Big 3” of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang have all been terrific this year but the goaltending is very suspect and Tristan Jarry is flat out awful right now; whether it’s due to injury again to his brittle body or his skill set already diminished is anyone’s guess. One and done. Again. And yeah, GM Ron Hextall has to go.

:02—FYI…Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid, he of the 134 points so far and counting, 58 goals and counting, unstoppable scoring machine and counting, is otherworldly talented and moving into the discussion of all-time top 10 players. And until he brings home a Stanley Cup he will never be higher than #10 despite all the accolades and scoring titles. It’s all about the Cup or Cups and right now, Connor got zip.

:01—The Pittsburgh Pirates’ Home Opener is Friday, April 7 at the best baseball stadium in the world, PNC Park, so if you haven’t got your tickets yet, hurry up, there can’t be many left. I am optimistic about our pitching staff—Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras and Johan Oviedo could be a real solid nucleus but the starting lineup is a little shaky on paper. Hoping for the best but still a realist, too. I say better than last season but not quite there yet.




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