Blake Hinson, Pitt Panthers, ACC basketball

The loss of Papa Kante for the season hurts the Pitt Panthers, but with two stars, they still can be a dangerous team in the ACC.

As is tradition, CBB Review is again ranking the top 100 teams heading into the new college basketball season. Each day, we will reveal the next team until we reach the team slotted at number one. Follow along with #CBBRank on all our social media channels.

Pitt Panthers fans got terrible news on Thursday when it was announced that Papa Kante will be out for the season with a knee injury. The 4-star freshman was projected to earn valuable minutes this season. Luckily for the Panthers, the team is loaded in the frontcourt, so a few players can step into bigger roles.

Brothers Guillermo Diaz Graham and Jorge Diaz Graham are two sophomores that could see increases in minutes. In addition, starting big man Federiko Federiko is more than capable, because he can share the rebounding duties with Blake Hinson.

Of course, the Panthers also no longer have Dior Johnson, which can be looked at in a few ways. The talented guard has had a rocky start to his college hoops career, so there were always concerns over team chemistry. It does leave Pitt thin in the backcourt, but with Ishmael Leggett at point guard, the Panthers at least have a veteran to run the show.

The URI transfer, Leggett, will have to use that experience to guide freshman Carlton Carrington, who is projected as the team’s starting shooting guard. Another freshman, Jaland Lowe, looks like the backup PG. A duo of injury-prone vets and another lower-rated recruit round out potential depth for the Panthers.

The Pitt Panthers have a bit of a diminished roster, but Jeff Capel surprised people last season and could do the same again.

Click here to learn more about our preseason top 100 teams heading into the 2023-24 college basketball season.

Head coach: Jeff Capel (15th season, 6th at Pitt)

2022-23 record: 24-12 (14-6)

2023 postseason finish: Lost to Xavier, 84-73, in Sweet 16 of NCAA Tournament

Notable departures: Jamarius Burton (Pro), Nelly Cummings (Pro), Greg Elliott (Pro), Nike Sibande (Pro), John Hugley (Transferred to Oklahoma)

Notable non-conference games: vs. Florida (Nov. 22), vs. Baylor OR Oregon State (Nov. 24), vs. Missouri (Nov. 28), at West Virginia (Dec. 6)

Projected Rotation

PG: Ishmael Leggett (6-3, 195, Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 16.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.4 SPG (Rhode Island)

SG: Carlton Carrington (6-4, 180, Fr.)

247Sports Composite No. 119 rated recruit

SF: Zack Austin (6-6, 205, Rs.-Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 14.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.3 APG, 2.1 BPG, 1.1 SPG (High Point)

PF: Blake Hinson (6-7, 235, Sr.)

2022-23 stats: 15.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.2 APG, 38.0 3P%

C: Federiko Federiko (6-11, 220, Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 6.6 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 0.5 APG, 1.7 BPG, 66.7 FG%

6: Guillermo Diaz Graham (7-0, 205, So.)

2022-23 stats: 3.5 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 0.7 APG

7: Jorge Diaz Graham (6-11, 190, So.)

2022-23 stats: 2.9 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 0.4 APG

8: Jaland Lowe (6-2, 170, Fr.)

247Sports Composite No. 83 rated recruit

9: William Jeffress (6-7, 205, Rs.-Jr.)

2022-23 stats: DNP (Injury)

2021-22 stats: 3.4 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 0.6 APG, 29.8 FG%

10: Michael Hueitt Jr. (6-3, 185, Gr.-Sr.)

2022-23 stats: DNP (Injury)

2021-22 stats: 7.3 PPG, 15 games played (Catawba-DII)

2019-20 stats: 5.8 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 0.5 APG, 36.1 3P% (UNC Greensboro)

11: Marlon Barnes Jr. (6-6, 180, Fr.)

247Sports Composite No. 243 rated recruit

Pitt Panthers MVP: Blake Hinson

Pitt’s leading scorer and rebounder from last year is back again and will no doubt be the Panthers leader again. A muscular 6-7 forward, Hinson can score in transition, inside on big men, or from outside. In the ACC, there are few players as versatile as Hinson.

This season will be a true test for the Panthers star. Other than Leggett, this is Hinson’s team. It might not be ridiculous to think that Hinson could average north of 18 or 19 points per game on a team in need of a go-to guy. Given what the Panthers also lost in the offseason, Hinson should be in for career highs across the board.

Guarding Blake Hinson isn’t easy. You have to have enough strength to body him up in the paint, but enough quickness to defend from the outside. Some teams have multiple stars, but even with Leggett, it’s clear that Hinston is the guy in Pittsburgh.

Pitt Panthers make-or-break player: Federiko Federiko

It will be interesting – and important for the Panthers’ success – to see how much Federiko improves. As a sophomore and his first season playing DI college basketball, Federiko started in 27 of his 35 games played and was a key rebounder for a Panthers team that was pretty solid on the glass. This year though, it will be important for Federiko to dominate the glass and take some weight off of Hinson’s shoulders.

With Kante out for the year, it gives one less person for Federiko to fall back on. Foul trouble could be an issue for him at times last season, but now that makes it one less person who can come in relief. Of course, the Graham brothers are both solid backups, and William Jeffress could also have a minor impact, but Federiko needs to set things in motion from day one. If he can turn into a reliable third scorer and take over on the boards, it would allow Hinson and Leggett to handle the majority of the scoring, and alleviate some of the pressure off them.

Key analytic: Transition defense

Last year, Pitt had an elite transition defense. According to Haslemetrics, the Panthers allowed 8.37 PPst, which measures potential quick points allowed off breakaway steals. Pitt had the 21st-best mark in the country and 2nd-best to Virginia in the ACC.

With so many players gone and new faces coming in, it will be a tough task to replicate that again. But Jeff Capel has always been a defense-first coach, so it’s certainly a focus for the Panthers to continue defending teams in transition.

Pitt Panthers 2023-24 projections

Projected conference finish: 8th in the ACC

Projected postseason ceiling: NCAA Tournament – Round of 64 Exit

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