With March Madness Just Weeks Away – It Seems Like Old (Good) Times at Pitt
Jeff Capel’s team has a collective maturity that includes veteran perspective. That explains why it’s not about 20 wins for the Panthers, it’s about the next one.
The Pitt Panthers showed us who they are again this week in outlasting Georgia Tech.
Afterward, they revealed why they’ve become what they’ve become.
The former was accomplished by making the plays that needed to be made down the stretch (shots, stops, free throws, whatever a given situation demanded) in a 76-68 victory on Tuesday night, something that’s happened often enough this season to be considered a Pitt signature characteristic.
The latter became apparent when the Panthers declined opportunities to attach a celebratory dunk to the program’s first 20-win season since 2015-16.
“It definitely means something but we’re in the grind right now so we’re focused on the next opportunity we’re gonna have,” guard Nelly Cummings maintained.
“Yeah, the 20 wins are special but we’re not done.”
They may be just getting started.
At 20-8 overall and 13-4 in the ACC Pitt remains in contention for the conference’s regular-season championship.
But the Panthers don’t need to hang that banner at the Petersen Events Center to confirm the banner season they’re having.
The “next opportunity” upon which Cummings and the Panthers remain focused is a home game against Syracuse on Saturday that was announced as a sellout last week.
That’s one accomplishment that can be celebrated in-season.
The buzz is back at The Pete, where the Panthers not long ago were playing before tumbleweeds.
The eventual reward will be Pitt’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2015-16 (not so coincidentally Pitt’s aforementioned last 20-win campaign).
That was something that was taken for granted when Pitt was in the process of earning 10 straight bids from 2001-02 through 2010-11.
That run included a buzzer-beating shot from the paint by Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds preventing Pitt from going to overtime with a trip to the Final Four at stake in the 2009 Elite Eight.
Pitt has made three NCAA Tournament appearances since the 10-year run ended and won one NCAA Tournament game (a first-round victory over Colorado in 2014).
But if the Panthers can’t survive and advance at least once this March it won’t be due to a lack of experience.
Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner put that in perspective when he attributed Pitt’s ability to finish at crunch time on Tuesday night to a “veteran group” making “veteran shots.
“They’re starting five is older than the Oklahoma City Thunder starting five,” Pastner added. “That goes a long way.”
How far remains to be seen.
But there won’t be any acknowledgment of how far Pitt has already come, at least not much, until the journey is done.
“What this team has done all year has been really good and is something I certainly don’t take for granted, we don’t take for granted,” head coach Jeff Capel allowed. “But like Nellie mentioned, we’re in the moment right now, man.
“It’s hard to kinda reflect on those types of things right now.”
There’s no reason to exhale just yet.
Not when there’s so much more yet to achieve.