Big East NCAA Tournament Capsules: Pittsburgh PanthersPosted by mlemaire on March 21st, 2013
Jamie Dixon’s club is back in the NCAA Tournament after a dismal 2012 season but this year hasn’t been without its bumps and bruises. The advanced metrics love Pittsburgh and think the Panthers are one of the top 10 teams in the country, but a junk non-conference schedule and troubling conference losses caused the Panthers to slip all the way down to a No. 8 seed and their path starts with a polished and veteran Wichita State team and could lead through No. 1 Gonzaga next.
Seed: No. 8
Record: 24-7 (12-6 Big East)
Matchup: vs. Wichita State in Salt Lake City
Key Player: As Yankee great Reggie Jackson would say, Tray Woodall is the straw that stirs the drink for the Panthers. The dynamic point guard hasn’t broken out the way some expected him to this season, but he still leads the team in scoring (11.8 PPG), assists (5.2 APG) and three-point shooting (38.2% 3FG), in addition to his ball-handling and offense-running responsibilities. His ability to create for the rest of the team and handle the bulk of the possessions for the Panthers will be crucial if they want to get out of their half of the bracket and make it to the Sweet Sixteen. Woodall played well down the stretch (with the exception of a “meh” effort in the Big East Tournament loss to Syracuse) and if he can keep the momentum rolling and maintain his confidence, Pittsburgh has a legitimate shot at knocking off Gonzaga in the Third Round.
Key Stat: It’s not exactly a statistic but it is a shocking factoid given all of the success Pittsburgh has had over the past decade, and that is that the Panthers have never beaten a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament during Dixon’s tenure. The Panthers’ continued failures in the NCAA Tournament seem to be all anyone can talk about and it is beginning to wear on Dixon, assuming it hasn’t been already. The Panthers have all the potential in the world. They are deep in the frontcourt and the backcourt and they are one of the few teams in the country that rank in the top 20 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency. If ever there was a No. 8 seed with more talent than the No. 1 seed, it would be this team, and so if Dixon and company can knock off the Zags to get to the Sweet Sixteen, it would go a long way to silencing the critics still pointing to Pitt’s NCAA Tournament struggles.
Best-Case Scenario: The Panthers’ potent offense is raring to go against a Wichita State team that hasn’t played anyone of Pittsburgh’s caliber all season, setting up a Third Round showdown with Gonzaga, another team that hasn’t played an elite and talented team in a long time. Woodall ignites the offense and freshman Steven Adams holds his own against Gonzaga big man Kelly Olynyk as the Panthers end Gonzaga’s feel-good story early before bowing out in a hard-fought and ugly game with Wisconsin in the Sweet Sixteen.
Worst-Case Scenario: The chorus of Dixon doubters gets significantly louder as the veteran Shockers aren’t fazed by the pressure or pedigree of Pittsburgh and keeps the game close by forcing the Panthers to play up-tempo and away from their excellent half-court offense. The game is close and Pittsburgh fights hard, but a last desperate heave from Woodall clangs off the rim and Pittsburgh heads home early from the Big Dance once again.