Let’s get this out of the way first: the Florida Gators are clearly better than the Pitt Panthers. The No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament looked every bit like a team with title potential in Saturday’s smothering win over Jamie Dixon’s squad.
But should the Panthers have had to face a team of the Gators’ quality in the second round? Many college basketball experts felt Pitt was badly underrated by the NCAA selection committee, with some saying the Panthers should’ve been as high as a No. 5 seed.
I don’t know if I’d go that far, but at the very least Pitt deserved to avoid playing a No. 1 seed in the opening weekend of the tournament.
If the Panthers, who were 25-9 entering Selection Sunday, had been seeded seventh in the South Region, they could’ve gone against a vulnerable Kansas team in the Round of 32 instead of surging Florida. Heck, if Pitt had gotten a No. 10 seed, they would’ve avoided the Gators until the fourth round.
All this conjecture illustrates just how random March Madness can be. This time around, the dice didn’t roll the Panthers’ way.
On the other hand, Pitt played its way into a precarious situation with its ill-timed late-season slump. After starting 18-2, the Panthers dropped six of their next 10 games to fall out of the national polls and raise questions about their NCAA worthiness.
Even Pitt’s wins during that ugly stretch were difficult, with overtime required in four of them. Simply put, the optics weren’t there for the Panthers until they pulled out an improbable extra-time victory at Clemson in the regular-season finale.
After that, Pitt blitzed Wake Forest and nationally-ranked North Carolina in the ACC tournament, then got edged at the wire by conference champion Virginia in the league semifinals. The Panthers had regained their form, but apparently not soon enough to impress the NCAA decision-makers.
Some might say that Pitt was eventually going to have to beat a great team in the tournament, so why not get it out of the way early? I can see that argument, but the fact is that making the Round of 16 can have a significant impact on future recruiting, and the Panthers were likely robbed of an extra week of exposure by an unfairly-low seeding.
As it stands, it’s now been five years since Pitt survived the first weekend of the NCAAs – a lifetime for the high-level prep stars that can transform a program.
Dixon and his staff have done just fine in attracting talent recently, but the Panthers’ second-round loss to Florida was a missed opportunity in more ways than one. A lot of that is on Pitt, but not all of it.