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Pitt off to surprising start under Capel | Iowa Hawkeyes Basketball

When Iowa’s basketball schedule first came out, it looked as though the Hawkeyes would get a couple of nice, easy games right before diving into their earliest start ever in Big Ten play.

For one thing, they were playing a team in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge that did not win a single conference game last season and finished the campaign with a 19-game losing streak.

It turns out tonight’s game against Pittsburgh may not be all that easy. Pitt is off to a surprising 6-0 start under new coach Jeff Capel.

If the 14th-ranked Hawkeyes are glancing ahead to head to Friday’s Big Ten opener with No. 22 Wisconsin, they could be in trouble.

“I really like their team,’’ Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Pitt. “They play together, they play hard, they defend, they’re organized, they run good stuff, they’ve got a good blend of some really good young players and a couple of veteran returnees, a couple of transfers.

“They’ve all blended pretty well together. That’s why they’re 6-0.’’

Capel replaced Kevin Stallings after last season’s disastrous 8-24 (0-18 in the ACC) season.

A four-year starter and two-year captain as a player at Duke in the 1990s, Capel previously served as the head coach at VCU (2002-06) and Oklahoma (2006-11), and spent the past seven seasons as an assistant at Duke under his mentor, Mike Krzyzewski.

He steered Oklahoma to a 25-1 start and a berth in the elite eight of the NCAA tournament in 2009. In other words, he knows what he’s doing.

“He’s a guy with a plan,’’ McCaffery said. “He has a plan and he’s put it together. He’s implemented what they want to do on the court and he’s put his roster together. When you get a new job and everybody’s raiding your team, you’ve got to figure out who’s staying, who can you get, what transfers are available as you put your roster together.

“I think he’s done a really good job of that initially and then he’s been able to implement a system that is really good … I don’t think it’s surprising if you know him.’’

Pitt returned five players who started 13 or more games last season but only one of those players is starting right now. The Panthers start three freshman guards along with Malik Ellison, a transfer from St. John’s, and Kene Chukwuka, who started 13 games a year ago.

The other four returning veterans come off the bench along with Sidy N’Dir, a graduate transfer from New Mexico State.

The Panthers haven’t exactly played an arduous schedule. Probably the best team they’ve beaten is St. Louis University, which they defeated 75-73 last Wednesday on a neutral court in Brooklyn.

They probably aren’t as formidable as the Oregon and UConn teams that Iowa defeated in winning the 2K Empire Classic in New York City, but this isn’t a game where the Hawkeyes are just going to be able to show up and expect to win.

Still no Pemsl: McCaffery said that he does not expect junior forward Cordell Pemsl to play tonight.

Pemsl suffered an unspecified leg injury in practice following the Hawkeyes’ season opener and has not played since.

“He’s not practicing so he’s probably a little ways from being back,’’ McCaffery said. “He’s still being evaluated and we’ll kind of see where it goes from here. If there’s anything more, I’m sure we’ll have a statement.’’

Up to No. 14: Following a 105-78 victory over Alabama State last week, Iowa moved up six spots in this week’s Associated Press Top 25.

The Hawkeyes are now ranked 14th, third highest among seven Big Ten teams in the poll. Michigan is seventh, Michigan State ninth, Ohio State 16th, Purdue 19th, Wisconsin 22nd and Maryland 24th.

Gonzaga took over the top spot by virtue of its victory over No. 1 Duke.

Happ is 3 for 3: For the third consecutive week, former Rockridge High School star Ethan Happ won a share of the Big Ten’s player of the week award.

This time Happ shared the award with Michigan State guard Cassius Winston, who averaged 19.5 points and 8.5 assists per game in being named the MVP of the Las Vegas Invitational. Happ averaged 17.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game in leading Wisconsin to the championship game at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.

Minnesota’s Gabe Kalscheur was named the league’s freshman of the week after helping the Golden Gophers win the Vancouver Showcase Championship. He averaged 14 points in three games and hit the game-winning 3-point field goal against Washington.

Done recruiting?: McCaffery was asked Monday if he plans to recruit any additional players for the class of 2019. The Hawkeyes signed Patrick McCaffery and New York City point guard Joe Toussaint to letters of intent earlier this month.

“We technically are done for ’19 because we don’t have any scholarships available,’’ he said. “But you’re always looking because Tyler (Cook) could put his name in (the NBA draft) again, somebody else could leave although everybody seems to be happy … You’re always looking at what’s available.

“But we’re really focusing on ’20 and ’21. We’d like to kind of balance the classes out. We’re going to have a lot in ’20 obviously if we don’t sign anybody else in ’19 and nobody leaves. We’d like to make sure we get the right guys in ’20 and ’21.’’

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