Road trip takes Pitt to Florida State in quest to avoid last place in ACC

Jeff Capel and his Pitt basketball team have not been home since Sunday, and they won’t return to campus until Thursday. So, Pitt’s coach probably hasn’t had time to look at the ACC standings.

If he did, he’d see Pitt (8-16, 3-10) has fallen into the basement, tied with NC State (10-14, 3-10). The Panthers get a chance to extricate themselves from last place, starting Wednesday at Florida State (13-9, 6-6) and stretching into Saturday when NC State (10-14, 3-10) shows up at the Pete in a showdown for 14th place.

In the five completed seasons since Jamie Dixon left, Pitt has finished last or tied for last three times.

At a time when teams are trying to earn NCAA Tournament berths, Pitt’s record in February and March over Capel’s four seasons has fallen to 7-29 during the current four-game losing streak.

While playing games every other day since Saturday, Pitt hasn’t had sufficient time to fix its issues. But they are plentiful.

Pitt has lost eight of its past 11 games, but more immediate problems surfaced Monday in Blacksburg, Va. Pitt recorded only one offensive rebound (a team rebound not credited to any player) while managing just five 2-point field goals in a 74-47 loss to Virginia Tech.

Capel is careful to avoid pointing the finger of blame at one player, but John Hugley is among those who need to increase their contributions.

Hugley is Pitt’s leading scorer (14.2 points per game), with six games of 21 or more points. But he scored two in each of the back-to-back games against Virginia Tech while losing his starting job. Noah Collier, who replaced Hugley in the starting lineup also was limited to two points.

The Hugley stat that most troubles Capel might be his turnovers.

Confronted by double teams on a regular basis – opponents are bracketing him with two defenders, often before he gets the ball – Hugley has had trouble maintaining possession and getting clean looks at the basket. Florida State and a front line of Tanor Ngom (7-foot-2) and John Butler (7-1) might pose another set of problems for Hugley.

In Pitt’s first 13 games, Hugley committed only 30 turnovers. In the most recent 11, Hugley turned it over 48 times – 15 occurring in two games against Boston College (the only ACC team, besides Pitt, that hasn’t achieved 10 victories).

Clean ball movement has been a problem for Pitt — last in the ACC in assists (10.9) while committing 324 turnovers (second-most in the conference).

“Teams know how much of a threat (Hugley) is,” Mouhamadou Gueye said, “and (they are) not even sending the weakside guard over (to guard the perimeter).

“We have to realize that. It’s not only on him, but everyone else on the perimeter to figure out and be visible in order for him to make that pass out.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at jdipaola@triblive.com or via Twitter

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