To Clemson’s surprise, Pitt started fast in the ACC


Brad Brownell isn’t quite ready to go there. More than a decade of trying to get Clemson out of a rambunctious ACC middle-class Tigers longtime coach has taught me that it’s best not to get ahead of yourself. Especially in January.

Brownell said he doesn’t pay much attention to the standings, even with his team – who were picked to finish 11th during pre-season – looking down on everyone else.

“It’s very early for all of that,” Brownell said, moments after the Tigers put together a dramatic late rally to beat Pitt i Our 75-74 victory That left Clemson (13-3, 5-0) as the ACC’s only undefeated team in conference play.

The Tigers displayed a grit and maturity that could serve them well over the next two months in a vertical conference as the Blue Bloods appear to have been joined by fresh blood.

Preparation No. 1 North Carolina Still trying to find a foothold After a terrifying start. No. 24 Duke is looking for an identity in the first year of the post-Mike Krzyzewski era. No. 13 Virginia She found herself mired in the second half last week against Pete.

All of this is good news for a conference that saw only four teams reach the NCAA Tournament last season.

The Panthers have already beat the Tar Heels and Cavaliers. Another chance for the program to distance itself from its recent, forgotten past comes Wednesday night when Pete (11-5, 4-1) visits Duke (12-4, 3-2).

“I think the league is much deeper this year,” said first-year Blue Devils head coach John Scheer. “It’s a lot deeper and really, it’s never been where you can go somewhere and you can just check out where you’re going to win. But this year especially you see teams beating each other.”

Clemson and Pitt took very different paths on the subject.

The Tigers are almost entirely domestic, a throwback approach in an era dominated by gate transfer proliferation. Guard Brevin Galloway, a graduate transfer from Boston College, is the only rookie who hasn’t spent his entire career at Clemson.

“I’ve always said we have a pretty good culture,” Brownell said, adding, “Maybe we’re a little bit more talented, we’re older, and maybe we’re reaping the benefits of that.”

Contrast that with the approach that Pit head coach Jeff Capel took in his fifth season. Six of the Panthers’ seven leading scorers are transfers, four of whom – guard Nelly Cummings (Colgate), forward Blake Henson (Mississippi, Iowa State), Greg Elliott (Marquette) and Federico Federico (Northern Oklahoma) are in their first year with the program.

Pete is basically doing a chemistry experiment.

“They’re doing things the right way,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said after watching the Panthers tear apart the Cavaliers in front of a small but vocal crowd at the somewhat renovated Petersen Events Center. “Obviously I don’t know many players. (Capel) got off to a good start. For his sake, I hope he keeps it up.”

So has Capel, who has been briefly flirting with success since taking on a massive reclamation project in 2018. After a home win over Duke in 2021, then-forward Justin Champagne declared The leopards are back. Pitt then lost eight of his next nine matches.

The current Panthers differ not only in make-up — only two players remain on the roster from the 2020-21 squad that finished 12th in the ACC — but in temperament. The rotation is filled with young men in their twenties, many of whom are well aware that this is their last chance to make an impact in their college careers.

It can be difficult to get players from different backgrounds and with little team experience to buy. In an effort to speed up the process, Capel organized more team building meetings in the fall.

An assistant coach suggested the players send in photos of important moments in their lives. During the meeting, the image will flash on the screen and the player talks at length about the moment and what it means to them.

“It was a way for us to get to know each other, to get to know (each other), to see someone who isn’t a teammate or a basketball player,” Capel said.

Players take it upon themselves to do some of the work themselves. There were frequent viewing parties during the World Cup. It is not unusual for the Panthers to show up early for practice and stay in the players’ lounge afterward.

This bond was tested early on. Dior Johnson is redshirted after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor counts of domestic violence stemming from an incident in October. Center John Higley is not playing for unspecified reasons.

However, Pitt recovered after a non-conference schedule that included being bullied by Michigan and West Virginia. The Panthers have gone 9-2 over their last 11 games, and the two losses were by one point, signs of the mental toughness other teams lacked during Cabell’s tenure.

It doesn’t give me comfort, I’m not comfortable,” Capel said. “I’m hopeful and hopeful that, you know, we can all learn from the past.”

Especially when the present — for Clemson and Pitt, among others, in a par-driven league — is so bright.

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