Despite a quarterfinals loss to Connecticut, Pittsburgh never was in real trouble of losing a one seed. You go 15-3 and win the Big East -- which heavily populates this year's big bracket -- then, yeah, No. 1 with a bullet. Jamie Dixon's team nabs the second top seed in program history; the Panthers' run as a one ended in the Elite Eight two years ago at the hands of Villanova. Well, Scottie Reynolds, really, as the Wildcats guard went end to end to beat Pitt on a last-second layup.
This year's team, from a numbers standpoint, is almost identical to the 2009 group. That's a very good sign for the most part. Primarily, if it can avoid another Reynolds-esque, heart-breaking moment, Pitt should stand a great chance at flying to Houston.
|Forty-three percent of the time Jamie Dixon's team misses a shot, it gets another one. (Getty Images)|
Why they won't: Because you can't win it if you can't get to the Final Four. And Pitt can't get to the Final Four. Or it hasn't to this point in the history of the universe. If you don't buy Pitt, who could blame you? This is a program that's had Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 next to its name in the bracket over the past decade, and yet, no Final Fours to show for it. The Panthers have built up an amazing reputation within the Big East -- credit more than earned -- but are considered welterweights in the month that matters. Until they prove they can get to the biggest stage, it's reasonable to doubt their March mettle.
Players to watch: Like usual, the Panthers are loaded with guys you couldn't pick out of a lineup. Know this: Ashton Gibbs is the most critical player. The Pitt point guard doesn't commit fouls and scores 1.25 points per possession. Incredibly valuable junior. Incredibly valuable senior? That's Brad Wanamaker, a savvy guard who doesn't get the credit for he should for being the well-rounded player he is.
Best off the bench: Nasir Robinson is a big part of why Pitt rebounds the way it does.
Soaring/slumping: Up: Wanamaker's play in Pitt's loss against Connecticut was encouraging. Down: Can we go with the whole team? Pitt's lost three of its past six. Probably not the most confident of all the one seeds out there.
Notable stat: Pitt maintains its rugged reputation because it has the bodies to throw at people. The Panthers have nine guys who average 11 minutes or more.
Last time as a No. 1 seed: Pitt fans really want to erase that whole Scottie Reynolds-from-2009 thing from their minds.
Last time won a national championship: 1930 (pre-NCAA tournament).
All-time starting five: G: Brandin Knight; G: Chuck Hyatt; G: Don Hennon; F: Charles Smith; F: DeJaun Blair.
Final thought: You know how everyone likes to say March is all about matchups? Pitt matches up well against just about anyone (except Notre Dame, really). The Panthers will be the dictator, and if they lose prior to Houston, it probably will be for lacking aggression and urgency -- Pitt doesn't turn teams over all that much.