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Pitt’s late-season losses not as disappointing in retrospect

Posted By Ryan Riordan On Apr 3 2011 @ 5:13 pm In Pittsburgh | 2 Comments

As the college basketball world waits for the Connecticut-Butler championship battle Monday night, let’s look back at a popular topic from two weeks ago.

Jamie Dixon’s teams at Pittsburgh underachieve in the NCAA Tournament.

This of course was something brought up after Dixon’s Panthers were eliminated in one of the most entertaining games of the tournament, a 71-70 loss to Butler in the Round of 32.

It was easy to chalk this up as another Dixon disappointment. The Panthers were the No. 1 seed in what was widely considered the easiest region when the brackets were released on March 13. It was supposed to be the year Dixon finally led Pitt to the Final Four, where the school hadn’t been since 1941, when it only needed to win one game to get there.

But once again Pitt failed to live up to its seed, falling to a No. 8 seed. In Dixon’s eight seasons, Pitt has lost as the better seed in the NCAA Tournament five times. The Panthers also have never won a tournament game under Dixon when it came in as the worse seed.

But now that the tournament has played out to its final game, maybe Pitt wasn’t such a disappointment. Yes, the Panthers lost two of their final three games of the season after winning 27 of their first 31. But those two losses were on a buzzer-beater by arguably this year’s best player, Kemba Walker of Connecticut, and on a late free throw by Butler’s Matt Howard after he was inexplicably fouled 90 feet from the basket by Nasir Robinson. So, Pitt lost two heartbreakers by a combined three points to the two NCAA finalists.

And it isn’t as if Pitt didn’t play well in either loss. The Panthers shot a combined 55.8 percent from the field (53-of-95) in the two games, which was more than 10 points higher than the combined totals from the Huskies and Bulldogs.

Now, does Dixon deserve some blame? Of course. He is often too stubborn to change from his man-to-man defense, even if it is getting shredded. Despite Pitt getting more athletic recruits, the Panthers still don’t run very often and don’t cause turnovers. In fact in the Connecticut game, the Huskies outscored Pitt on points off turnovers 20-0. And every coach knows that Pitt will switch on ball screens, which led to 6-foot-11 center Gary McGhee on Walker when UConn’s star guard hit the game-winner.

But sometimes in one-and-done formats, you run into the hot team and can be eliminated, even if you were the better team for the majority of the season. And there aren’t two hotter teams than Connecticut and Butler.

So you can say Pitt underachieved in losses to Bradley, Xavier, Michigan State and even Villanova during Dixon’s tenure, but not this year. The Panthers played at a high level in postseason play, it just ran into teams playing a little better at the right time.

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