Mar 14, 2014; Greensboro, NC, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers head coach Jamie Dixon talks with his players during a timeout against the North Carolina Tar Heels in the quarterfinals of the ACC college basketball tournament at Greensboro Coliseum. Pittsburgh defeated North Carolina 80-75. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

NCAA Tournament Preview And Predictions: How Far Can The Pitt Panthers Go?

Coming into this year, I was not sure how the Pitt Panthers were going to handle a transition to the ACC.

With the losses of Steven Adams to the NBA, Travon Woodall and Dante Taylor to graduation, and the transfers of J.J. Moore and Trey Zeigler, who was going to step up?

Coach Jamie Dixon should be given much respect for his team’s success this season, finishing with an overall record of 25-9 (11-7 in the ACC regular season) and fifth place in the new conference. Though at times it seems as if Dixon doesn’t give his players enough free reign on the offensive side of the ball, he has been able to train Pitt into the tough, gritty, defensive-oriented team of the program’s past.

The development of seniors Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna should not go unnoticed.  They have made substantial strides, along with junior Cameron Wright. Pitt also had a strong showing in the ACC tourney, demolishing Wake Forest, putting it to UNC, and almost upsetting top-seeded Virginia.

The NCAA selection committee deemed the Panthers a No. 9 seed in the South Region, and they will face eighth-seeded Colorado on Thursday afternoon in Orlando, Fla. (Here’s a printable bracket.)

Pitt will be appearing in its 12th NCAA Tournament in the last 13 years. Dixon has made the Big Dance in 10 of his 11 seasons at the helm.

Related: Looking back at Pitt’s success and failure in the Big Dance

All-time, Pitt is 23-25 in 48 tournament games, winning 15 of its last 26. Under Dixon, the furthest Pitt has reached was the Elite Eight in 2009, when the Panthers were a No. 1 seed and lost in dramatic fashion to Scottie Reynolds and the Villanova Wildcats.

As for Pitt’s opponent, the Colorado Buffaloes (23-11, 10-8 Pac-12), the Pac-12 squad was tied for third, and lost to Arizona 63-43 in its conference semifinals.

Early in the season, Colorado lost to Baylor 72-60 and Oklahoma State 78-73. Some key wins for the Buffaloes include Harvard 70-62, Kansas 75-72, Oregon 100-91, and Stanford 59-56.

While Pitt lost 3-point shooter and sixth man Durand Johnson early in ACC play, the Buffaloes took a blow as well. In late January, their leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddie suffered a torn ACL and is out for the season. Despite the injury, the NCAA committee deemed them an eighth seed, indicating that this is a fairly solid ball club that should not be overlooked.

The winner of Pitt/Colorado will likely square off against the top-ranked Florida Gators (32-2), who were undefeated in SEC play.

Other teams featured in Pitt’s region include Big 12 season champ Kansas, fellow ACC newcomer Syracuse, and Pac-12 conference-tourney champ UCLA.

As you will see below, I think Pitt can overpower Colorado without its leading scorer. I really want to say that Pitt can upset Florida, arguably the best team in the tourney, but a lot of things will have to go right for the Panthers.

Is it impossible? No way.

For Pitt to upset Florida, they will have to have strong games from Zanna and Patterson, in a similar fashion to the Pitt/UNC ACC tourney game. Aside from these two, someone else will need to score. Could that be James Robinson, Cameron Wright or Josh Newkirk?

Pitt would need to put up at least 70, and the defense would have to defend the 3-pointer and rebound extremely well. Don’t be surprised if Pitt pulls off a shocker. The Panthers have been in every game they’ve played this season.

How far do you think the Panthers can go?

I typically fill out a “heart” bracket and a “brain” bracket. As for my predictions here, I will give you my brain bracket:

South Region:

  • Florida over 16 Play-in, Pittsburgh over Colorado, VCU over SF Austin, UCLA over Tulsa, Ohio State over Dayton, Syracuse over Western Michigan, New Mexico over Stanford, and Kansas over Eastern Kentucky
  • Florida over Pitt (In my heart bracket, I took the Panthers), VCU over UCLA, Ohio State over Syracuse, and New Mexico over Kansas
  • Florida over VCU, New Mexico over Ohio State
  • Florida over New Mexico

East Region:

  • Virginia over Coastal Carolina, Memphis over GW, Cincinnati over Harvard, Michigan State over Delaware, UNC over Providence, Iowa State over NC Central, UConn over St. Joe’s, and Villanova over UW-Milwaukee
  • Virginia over Memphis, Michigan State over Cincinnati, UNC over Iowa State, and Villanova over UConn
  • Michigan State over Virginia, UNC over Villanova
  • Michigan State over UNC

West Region:

  • Arizona over Weber State, Oklahoma State over Gonzaga, North Dakota State over Oklahoma, New Mexico State over San Diego State, Baylor over Nebraska, Creighton over UL-Lafayette, Oregon over BYU, Wisconsin over American
  • Arizona over Oklahoma State, North Dakota State over New Mexico State, Creighton over Baylor, and Wisconsin over Oregon
  • Arizona over North Dakota State, Creighton over Wisconsin
  • Creighton over Arizona

Midwest Region:

  • Wichita State over Play-in 16, Kentucky over Kansas State, Saint Louis over Play-in 12, Louisville over Manhattan, Play-in 11 (Iowa) over UMass, Duke over Mercer, Arizona State over Texas, and Michigan over Wofford
  • Wichita State over Kentucky, Louisville over Saint Louis, Duke over Iowa, Michigan over Arizona State
  • Louisville over Wichita State, Michigan over Duke
  • Louisville over Michigan

Therefore, my final four includes Florida vs. Michigan State and Creighton vs. Louisville. I think a senior-oriented Florida squad could take the whole thing, granted they get by the Panthers.

Creighton star Doug McDermott has scored over 3,000 points and will carry them a long way. Michigan State is finally healthy and ready for a run, and a highly under-seeded and red-hot Louisville squad will be looking to win back-to-back NCAA titles.

Florida will meet up with Louisville in the finals, and Billy Donovan’s squad will win a barnburner against Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals.

(If you really wanted to know about my “heart” bracket, my final four included Pitt, Iowa State, Arizona and Wichita State.  I predicted the Shockers will cap off an undefeated season against local star DeAndre Kane and the Cyclones.)

Tags: 2014 NCAA March Madness 2014 NCAA Tournament Jamie Dixon Lamar Patterson Pitt Basketball Pitt Panthers Talib Zanna

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