Monday, March 21, 2011

Putting the Pitt Loss to Butler in Perspective

For Pitt fans, we've been here before -- bounced from the tournament. Bitterly. Devastatingly. Even prematurely, some would say.

Every year, there's a reason, some phenom who decides to explode on the scene at the exact moment he takes the court against Pitt, or a bad match up, or just dumb luck. There's always a reason, isn't there?

Let's take a stroll through the last decade of painful losses.

2002: As a 3 seed, Pitt made it to the Sweet 16, beating 14-seed Central Connecticut State and 6th-seeded Cal along the way before going down to Kent State (10 seed.)

Reason: A Golden Flash player named Antonio Gates. Maybe you've heard of him. He's gone on to be the fame and fortune in the NFL as a tight end for the San Diego Chargers and has been selected to the Pro Bowl seven times.

2003: As a 2 seed, Pitt made it to the Sweet 16, beating 15th seed Wagner and 7th seed Indiana, before losing to 3rd seed Marquette, by a score of 77-74.

Reason: D-Wade. Was named the Midwest Regional Outstanding Player after compiling 51 points, 14 boards and 15 assists in two games -- taking out Pitt, then Kain'tuck.

2004: As a 3 seed, Pitt made it to the Sweet 16, beating Central Fla. (14) and Wisconsin (6) before losing to Oklahoma State, 63-51.

Reason: Okla. St. was smoking hot coming into this game, having won 19 of their last 20.

2005: Pitt (9 seed) lost a depressing game to Pacific in the first round, 79-71.

Reason: Who cares, really?

2006: Pitt won their first round game versus a D-Wade-less Marquette, then dropped in the 2nd round to Bradley (out of the Missouri Valley Conference)

Reason: Two Braves went completely bananas in this game, as Patrick O'Bryant had 28 points and 7 rebounds, while Marcellus Sommerville added 18 points and 6 boards. To think, this was supposed to be the Panthers' bounce-back year.

2007: Pitt earned a 3-seed and advanced to the Sweet 16 before losing to UCLA.

Reason: UCLA did advance to the Final Four. And they proved to be a much tougher team. Probably Ben Howland's best team.

2008: Lost in the second round to Michigan State.

Reason: There's never really any shame in losing to Tom Izzo's Michigan State program. When the game was on the line, Drew Neitzel and Kalin Lucas took over, putting on a late shooting-and-ballhandling show. Of note: This win over Pitt gave Spartie five wins in five NCAA tournament games against Big East teams, which tied the longest winning streak against Big East teams in NCAA tournament play, set by Duke (won five straight against the Big East from 1990 to 1992.)

2009: Lost in the Elite 8 on a last second bucket by Villanova's Scottie Reynolds.

Reason: They were one great play away from going to OT and possibly advancing to the Final Four, when Reynolds made the best, most clutch play of the night. Still, this loss was a move in the right direction -- as Pitt finally got past the Sweet 16. Still, it was disappointing, given that this was probably Pitt's best team ever, and certainly the best team in the Jamie Dixon era. This one hurt. A lot.

2010: Lost in the 2nd round to Xavier.

Reason: This was a team figuring out who they were in the absence of Dejuan Blair, Sam Young and Levance Fields.

2011: Do we have to relive this second round loss to Butler?

Reason: Facing Butler which should never have had a seed as low as 8 with four starters returning from last year's Butler team. Plus Shelvin Mack going bananas and hitting 7 of 12 three-point shots. Plus Matt Howard flopping like an Italian futbol player. Plus Pitt's shot clock violation. And their sheer stupidity. That about sums that up, right?

I had this wonderful principal in high school -- Sister Regina Clare. She used to tell us that there was a world of difference between an excuse and a reason. But I wonder, if I could ask her now, if even valid reasons cannot turn into excuses when they are heaped upon each other, layer after layer, over and over again?

Sure, there's really no shame in losing to Dwyane Wade. Or losing to last year's finalist, a team that came within 2-points of knocking off Duke.

And in a vacuum, either of those loses is perfectly acceptable to all but the most rabid Pitt fans, no?

But at some point, if you want to actually be deserving of elite status, actually be deserving of a 1-seed in the tourney, don't you have to win one of those games every once in a while? Not all of them. Just one or two of them. Because elite teams do sometimes win these kinds of games. Elite teams sometimes rise up and pull off the big win in the toughest setting.

After a while, don't legit reasons take on another shape and morph into excuses?

None of which is to say that I'm ready to make crazy changes at Pitt, like firing coach Dixon or something else equally extreme. But ... Dixon et al do have to examine some things this off-season. There are chinks in the armor that simply have to be mended. Pitt was badly out-coached by Jim Calhoun in the Big East tournament, and other weaknesses were painfully apparent against Butler, such as Pitt's inability to adjust to and/or cool off a hot 3-point shooter. Frankly, that's something that has been a problem for the Panthers over the years. So there are things for Dixon and his staff to work on, starting today; areas that they simply have to improve upon. Have. To.

Meanwhile, the NCAA men's basketball selection committee should cease and desist from ever conferring a No. 1 seed upon Pitt until the Panthers actually win one of these things tough games in March, because I'm sure the white hairs at the committee are just as sick of seeing this as Pitt fans are:

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