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Men’s basketball preview: Young players front-and-center as Pitt begins rebuild |

Men’s basketball preview: Young players front-and-center as Pitt begins rebuild

| Monday, November 5, 2018 6:51 p.m
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt head coach Jeff Capel with a teaching moment during the first day of practice Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018 at Petersen Events Center.

Pitt coach Jeff Capel is in the midst of a massive rebuilding project that probably will take two or three seasons to bear real fruit.

The goal is more than just a better roster and more victories. It’s how the team is perceived around the country and by its fan base — things that also will take time.

Eight players return from last year’s team that was 8-24, the worst record at Pitt since 1977. So, Capel didn’t have to recruit out of desperation, which was former coach Kevin Stallings’ downfall.

The key to the season might be the 13-game nonconference schedule. If Pitt can win 10 and look promising doing it, players’ confidence will soar, and the ACC will be difficult, but not impossible, to handle.

Three players to watch

Xavier Johnson: He’s long (6-foot-3) and athletic and plays guard with plenty of energy. And he was one of two freshmen in the starting lineup for Pitt’s first public appearance, an exhibition victory against Pitt-Johnstown. He just turned 19, however, so he still has a lot to learn.

Trey McGowens: Another 6-3 freshman guard, he also has a chance to start a majority of the nonconference games. He said he was nervous as the UPJ game got started, which is a good sign. But he looked fine with two electric dunks and 10 points. It didn’t count, though. So, like Johnson, he has plenty to prove and a lot on his 18-year-old shoulders.

Terrell Brown: The lack of size will dog Pitt throughout the season, but Brown (6-10) can mitigate that problem. He started 17 games last season as a freshman but averaged only 3.4 rebounds. Three of his teammates did better. Brown must become more aggressive around the glass.

The season will be a success if …

… Pitt can find a way to win a handful ACC games (perhaps five) after finishing 0-18 last season. No one expects an NCAA Tournament berth, and even the NIT might be asking too much. But if Johnson and McGowens don’t let their youth show too often, Pitt might be an exciting team to watch.

The season will be a flop if …

… Pitt’s veterans don’t step up to complement the young players. Guard/forward Jared Wilson-Frame is the only scholarship senior on the roster, and he’s quicker and more athletic after losing 35 pounds in the offseason. If he doesn’t average double-digit points — he hit 13 last season — Pitt could be in trouble.

Predicted record

13-18 overall, 4-14 ACC

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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