Big Lead Sports Bar

3/21/2010

DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN


Going into the 2009-10 campaign, it's pretty safe to say that expectations were not high for the Pitt Panthers, unless you consider a prediction of 9th place in the Big East high expectations. But expectations can sometimes change, and in a relatively short period of time. After some disappointing early-season efforts sans the ineligible Gilbert Brown and the injured Jermaine Dixon, the Panthers slowly got their act together. And that's when things got interesting.

An 82-72 win at #5 Syracuse on January 2 really got the ball rolling. Wins against Cincinnati, UConn, and St. John's had Pitt sitting at 16-4 on January 28. Before the season ended, the Panthers toppled #4 West Virginia in triple OT, #3 Villanova, and Marquette, another tournament team, on the road. After their second consecutive one-and-done in the Big East Tournament, Jamie Dixon's squad entered March Madness with a 25-8 record and a three seed. Expectations? Let's just say they rose quite a bit since the season started.

But much like many NCAA tournaments before this one, the Panthers would end up losing to a lower seed. A quick look back at the last decade of Pitt's exits reveals that they've lost to the lower seed in all but three seasons:

2009: 28-4 Pitt (a 1 seed) loses to Villanova (3), 78-76, in the Elite 8. Forever known as "The Scottie Reynolds game." I don't think any further explanation is necessary.

2008: 26-9 Pitt (4) loses to Michigan State (5), 65-54, in the second round. The two-headed monster of Drew Neitzel and Kalin Lucas scored 21 of MSU's final 25 down the stretch.

2007: 27-7 Pitt (3) loses to UCLA (2) 64-55, in the Sweet 16. Teacher (Ben Howland) bests student (Jamie Dixon). Arran Afflalo led the Bruins with 17 points on just 3-for-11 shooting in an ugly game that Pitt never led.

2006: 24-7 Pitt (5) loses to Bradley (13) 72-66, in the second round. The infamous Patrick O'Bryant dominated Pitt with 28 points in a game that the Panthers trailed by as many as 14 points.

2005: 20-9 Pitt (9) loses to Pacific (8) 79-71 in the first round. Pitt was down by 15 after the first half. The only first-round loss in the Howland/Dixon period.

2004: 29-4 Pitt (3) loses to Oklahoma State (2) 63-51 in the Sweet 16. Tony Allen led OSU with 23 points, as Pitt's lack of offensive firepower finally caught up with them.

2003: 26-4 Pitt (2) loses to Marquette (3) 77-74 in the Sweet 16. Dwyane Wade was the game's high scorer with 22 points. Pitt had a 13-point lead at halftime

2002: 25-4 Pitt (3) loses to Kent State (10) 78-73 in the Sweet 16. Future NFL star Antonio Gates topped Kent with 22 points. Pitt had 11 turnovers in the first half.

So how will history remember the 2009-10 Pitt Panther team? Overachievers? Underachievers? I could see the argument to place them in either category, especially since they again lost in the tournament to a lower-seeded team. But for me, I think the season would have to be considered a success, despite Sunday's 71-68 loss. To have a Pitt team among the final 32 after the loss of two NBA players (DeJuan Blair and Sam Young) and two playing professionally overseas (Tyrell Biggs/Greece and Levance Fields/Russia) is no small feat. Three wins over top-5 teams, a second-place finish in the Big East, and a tournament win is a pretty good season, all things considered.

Of course, the way the Panthers lost on Sunday definitely took a toll. The last lead they saw was at 7:38 of the first half. They watched Xavier go on a 16-0 run. They struggled with the Musketeers' Jordan Crawford, who lit them up for 27 points. Their senior leader, Jermaine Dixon, shot 1-for-9. Slumping guard Ashton Gibbs missed nine three-pointers. Gary McGhee was completely shut out. The team shot below its season average from the floor, three-point territory, and the foul line. And top top it off, despite all of these shortcomings, they still had not one, but two chances to tie the game at the end of regulation and missed both shots.

So once again, Pitt loses in the tournament to a team that has the best player on the floor. It's a disappointing yet familiar theme that has reared its head time and time again. Maybe one of these days Jamie Dixon's team will finally reach the Final Four. Maybe one of these days it will be Pitt that has the Jordan Crawford or Dwyane Wade leading the way. Or maybe we'll consider another option, that Dixon and Pitt might actually be doing more with less year-in and year-out.

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3 comments:

BurressWithButterflyWings said...

It's hard to say where this one falls. Yesterdays game was sort of a microcosm of all their past tournament failures.

I don't know how much better Xavier could have played. They seemed to make every shot, sometimes due to getting easy looks due to defensive breakdowns and sometimes due to pure luck with shooter's rolls and blind 3 pointers from the 10th row with a hand in their face. That is how the NCAA tournament goes, more or less.


Pitt still had enough chances to change their fate, but simply could not get themselves over that edge. On the 12-0 run in the second half, they had a chance to extend the run and take a lead, but made poor shot choices and turned it over. I don't think they played with enough urgency in the last 7 minutes, either.

All of those factors are recipes for tournament disasters and Pitt teams and fans are no strangers to that.

Jason said...

I'm a Pittsburgh native who has been displaced to Knoxville. I've been rooting for Pitt the whole tournament, with the Vols as my #2 team. I invite all my fellow Pittsburghers to jump on the Vols bandwagon for the rest of the way!

Louis Lipps is my homeboy said...

Screw the Vols, with Pitt out I'm rooting for whatever helps me win my pool.... no offense.