Pitt's Jeff Capel Tired of ACC Disrespect

Pitt Panthers head coach Jeff Capel spoke with ACC PM about the state of ACC Basketball, missing out on the NCAA Tournament and more.
Mar 14, 2024; Washington, D.C., USA; Pittsburgh Panthers head coach Jeff Capel gestures from the
Mar 14, 2024; Washington, D.C., USA; Pittsburgh Panthers head coach Jeff Capel gestures from the / Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH -- Pitt Panthers head coach Jeff Capel just endured one of the most challenging seasons as a head coach at the college level, one that he won't forget anytime soon.

The Panthers started 1-5 in ACC play, but finished strong, winning 11 of their final 14 games and earned the No. 4 seed in the ACC Tournament, giving them a double-bye. They made the ACC Semifinals, before losing to the No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels.

A 22-11 record and 12-8 in the ACC should've proven enough to get Pitt into the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive season. The Committtee thought differently, and chose to place Pitt in the Last Four Out.

Capel spoke to Mark Packer and Taylor Tannebaum of ACC PM at the ACC Spring Meetings in Amelie Island, Fla. about the past season and the hurt of missing out on the NCAA Tournament.

"It was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced as a coach..., Capel said."

During his time previously with VCU, Oklahoma and even at Pitt, Capel said that he never was in the situation where his team was on the bubble and/or then finished on the wrong side of it.

When Pitt missed out, he saw the hope and happinesss from his players dissappear. Pitt would then end the season, declining an invite to the NIT, but Capel wanted to make sure his players knew their efforts didn't go to waste.

"One of the things I told them was that, it’s not anything they did or didn’t do. This is subjective. This is the way these people chose," Capel said. "We did what we were supposed to do. Sometimes stuff isn’t fair, but you were a really good team, we were a really good team and I was really proud of them and learned from this and you know, sometimes in life, things happen and you have to move on from it."

Much of the reason why Pitt missed out on the NCAA Tournament came from the perception of the ACC last season. Many talking heads, pundits and other members of the media downplayed the conference, due to a factor of reasons, including NET rankings.

This allowed a mid-major conference, the Mountain West, to receive six bids to the NCAA Tournament, tied for the third most, while the ACC only had five teams.

The ACC would prove its detractors wrong in the postseason, as four teams made the Sweet 16, Duke and Clemson made the Elite Eight and NC State, who made a run to win the ACC Title, made it to their first Final Four since they last won an NCAA Title in 1983.

The Mountain West, by contrast, only had one team make the Sweet 16, which was San Diego State, who suffered a 30-point blowout to eventual NCAA Champion UConn, who beat them in the Championship game a season prior.

While the results showed that the ACC came out on top, Capel, and the other ACC head coaches, knew this all along. The perception of the league to the rest of the country, is one of the biggest talking points at the ACC Spring Meetings for the basketball coaches, and football too.

Capel is used to seeing a conference receive disrespect as a head coach. When he served at the helm of Oklahoma from 2006-11, he saw how media portrayed the Big 12 as lesser than the ACC and the Big East.

He attributes some of the disrespect to others having fatigue with the ACC, considering the level of reverance it's received for many decades. He also attributes it to the conference lacking a true voice that leads it, like former head coaches in Roy Williams at UNC, Jim Boeheim at Syracuse and Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, who Capel played for and coached with.

"All-time greats, at places where they had brands," Capel said. "They were brands in themselves and they represented universities that had a brand."

The reputation of the ACC is something that Capel, ACC head coaches and administrators speak about often. But Capel is tired of talking about it. He wants to see something done to change it.

"It will be discussed man, but we discuss it every year," Capel said. "It comes a point where you get tired of it, like there has to be action and that’s where I am right now. I think that’s where a lot of the coaches are in our league. We’re tired of this false narrative. What are we going to do as a league? And that’s not just on us. What are we going to do as a league? The commissioner on down, the [athletic directors], like what are we going to do to rectify this because it needs to be rectified."

Capel doesn't care what the league has to do to improve things, as he's willing to do what is needed to change the reputation. He's excited for SMU, Cal and Stanford to join the ACC and what they'll each bring next season, but he already knows, what so many ACC fans do, that the conference is one of the best in the country.

"No question," Capel said. "No question and so we’re going to continue to win as a league. We’re going to continue to put a great product out there. Really good teams, really good coaches, really good atmospheres and hopefully, we start getting the recognition that we deserve."

Capel also spoke on the Mountain West and their rise in recent years. He gave credit to them, marking how the transfer portal is giving so many teams the opportunity to excel, but still made sure to note that the ACC is far and away the better conference.

"Yeah it’s not now, especially not now and it won’t be true, it won’t be true and it’s nothing against them," Capel said. "It’s a really good league. There are a lot of really good leagues, really good teams, really good coaches and with the state of college athletics and college basketball right now, man anybody can be good, you know what I mean? Just because of all the transfers, the interconference transfers, you still, I think this is the last year of the COVID year, the extra year and so there are a lot of different ways for people to be really good now."

Make sure you bookmark Inside the Panthers for the latest news, exclusive interviews, recruiting coverage, and more!

Follow Inside the Panthers on Twitter: @InsidePitt

Dominic Campbell


Follow Dominic Campbell on Twitter.