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Non-Conference Preview: Pittsburgh Panthers & Wichita State Shockers

A dual preview of the Shockers and Panthers.

Syndication: The Enquirer Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Who’s ready for more previewin’?

I know it’s just the most exciting thing in the middle of football season. But we’re gonna keep going.

Here are the dates (complete with any links to previous previews):

So here’s what we know so far:

So that means it’s time to look at the Pitt Panthers and the Wichita State Shockers. Missouri pulled the Panthers in the ACC-SEC Challenge in late November. They’ll travel to Pittsburg in their second true road non-conference game of the year. Then it’s a return home to take on the Shockers for the fourth time in four years. Let’s dive in!

Pittsburgh Panthers

Head Coach | Jeff Capel | 6th Season 75–81

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-Pittsburgh vs Xavier John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Capel has had a wild ride as a coach. The former Duke point guard got into coaching after a short pro career but followed an unusual path for a former Duke player. He didn’t turn to Mike Krzyzewski, instead he turned to his dad. Capel's father, also named Jeff, was a successful head coach at Old Dominion when younger Jeff joined his staff. The younger Capel jumped to the VCU bench pretty quickly when he accepted the assistant job under Mack McCarthy.

In a “different times” move McCarthy stepped aside after the Rams' best season and the school put Capel in charge. He helmed the early stages of what turned into a pretty good run for the Rams as they went from the CAA to the A-10 and had coaches like Anthony Grant, Shaka Smart, Will Wade, and Mike Rhoades who all used the program to springboard them into better jobs.

Capel used it to land the Oklahoma job where in two years he had them in the NCAA Tournament and in year 3 they were a 2 seed with Blake Griffin leading the way. After an Elite 8 run things were looking good. But instead things fell off a cliff and two years later Capel was fired.

By that point, it was time to return home and he landed back at Duke under Coach K where he helped recruit a world of NBA talent, and then in 2018 he decided to take the Pitt job.

It’s been a bit tougher at Pitt than many expected. They were in the dumps, and Capel hasn’t been able to keep his recruiting hot hand going. The Panthers were in year 5 and after starting 1-3 with non-con losses to Michigan, West Virginia and VCU, there were a lot of people expecting Capel to be fired after the season. Instead, Pitt made their first NCAA Tournament since Jamie Dixon left in 2016.

Series History | 0-0

We’re seeing all kinds of new things. Mizzou has never played Loyola and now Pitt. So yeah, short section.

What about the team now?

Pitt took some advantage of a bad ACC last year. They went 14-6 and landed an 11 seed, which tells you how much the ACC was down. Duke was a 2 seed in 2018 and they went 13-5 that season. Leading scorer, and former Ole Miss forward and Cuonzo Martin recruiting miss, Blake Hinson is back for his final season.

However, the second, third, fourth and fifth leading scorers all have to be replaced since Jamarius Burton, Nelly Cummings, Greg Elliot, and Nike Sibande all graduated.

In response to needing to replace a lot of scoring Capel dipped into the transfer portal and added Ishmael Leggett from Rhode Island, who averaged over 16 points per game last season. He also added Zach Austin, a high-flying wing from High Point who poured in over 14 ppg last year.

There’s also the hope of a top 25 recruiting class where Capel added three top 100 freshmen including former Michigan commit Papa Kante.

Wichita State Shockers

Head Coach | Paul Mills | 1st Season

NCAA Basketball: Summit Conference Tournament Championship-North Dakota State v Oral Roberts Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Yes that’s a picture of Mizzou Post Connor Vanover. He played at Oral Roberts last season under new Wichita State head coach Paul Mills.

Mills is part of the Scott Drew coaching tree where he was a long-time assistant coach under Drew at Baylor. He was with Drew for most of the entire build through 2017 when he accepted the Oral Roberts head coaching job. At ORU he was 106-83 but it took him a couple seasons to get things going, but by year 4 they were wrecking hopes and dreams in the NCAA tournament. Then last season Mills and ORU were 30-5 and were the runaway best team in the Summit League, and turning down Wichita State was just too tough.

While at ORU he used all-league guard Max Abmas to run one of the more efficient offenses in the country. So while everything at Wichita may not click right away, he won’t take long to get the Shockers back into contention in the American.

Series History | Mizzou leads 5-1

Most of this series' history occurred over the last few years. In 1950 and 1951 the two teams played three games with Missouri winning all three. Then they didn’t play again until the COVID-impacted season of 2020-21 when Missouri marched into Wichita and left with a pretty easy 10-point win.

Two years ago the two teams were scrappy scrappers who scrapped together in a game in Mizzou Arena. Wichita escaped with a 6-point win in what would be Cuonzo Martin’s last season.

Then last year the Tigers traveled back to Wichita and won a thrilling overtime win when they came back from 10 points down in under five minutes left to tie the game, and then won it in overtime.

What about the team now?

Ronnie DeGray III revenge game, here we are. DeGray joins a team with 7 other transfers and a few other signees to make up a bit of a mishmash of a roster for Mills' first season.

Altogether it’s not a bad roster. The only returners of note are Xavier Bell and Kenny Pohto. Bell was a part-time starter at point guard, while Pohto started all but two games and one of those he was injured. He averaged over 8 points, while Bell chipped in just 4 ppg.

The Shockers bring in Harlond Beverly, a former top 100 recruit and off-the-bench spark plug for a Final Four Miami team last season. His 7.2 ppg last season doesn’t stand out, but he showed occasional flashes and could take on a larger role in the AAC. Look for Beverly and Colby Rogers, a Siena transfer, to provide some scoring punch.

Mills also added Oklahoma transfer Bijan Cortes, Florida State transfer Quincy Ballard, and UTSA transfer Jacob Germany. Germany and Ballard should pair well with Pohto on the interior, and Cortes is a versatile guard who can defend and rarely looks to score. Dalen Ridgnal also signed on. He’s a KC native and former Missouri State and Georgia forward.

I’d expect both of these games to be tough to pull out wins but Missouri should be in a better spot and possibly favored to win both.