Pitt Panthers Women Poised To Make NCAA Tournament


Nov 20, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Madison Ristovski (R) drives to the basket against Pittsburgh Panthers forward Yacine Diop (12) during the second half at the Petersen Events Center. Pittsburgh won 85-64. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the 2014-15 season, it would have been hard to believe the Pitt Panthers women’s basketball team would have a good case for the NCAA Tournament.

You would have expected its counterparts, the men’s team to make it, however various struggles which range from consistency to rebounding have plagued the team and although conference play has just begun it is not looking food for them.

Instead it is the women’s team that is looking to get make it to the tournament for the first time since the 2008-09 team which make the sweet sixteen for the season consecutive season. The Panthers have not made postseason play since the 2009-10 season when it made the WNIT with a 16-15 record.

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This season at media day Pitt’s prospects did not look good. It was shorthanded after losing Marvadene “Bubbles” Anderson once again for the season and Brittany Gordon also has not seen game action this season. The Panthers added Jordan Serio to the roster which brought the team to nine players. This obviously is not ideal and the call for practice players became more urgent than ever.

Based on a combined record of 28-61 with a 3-45 conference record the past three seasons, it came as no surprise that the Panthers were predicted to finish last in the ACC. In the past it may have deterred the team, however this season it has motivated them to an 11-4 record.

Coach Suzie McConnell-Serio knew from the beginning that her team was better than it was being depicted. Her confidence has spread on this team and already the results have shown. Pitt has defeated Michigan a WNIT regular in recent years, won on the road against an Ohio State team that is receiving votes towards the NCAA top 25 poll, nearly upset fourth ranked Louisville before knocking off eighth ranked North Carolina.

Now Pitt is receiving consideration for the NCAA Tournament. In his latest Bracketology for ESPN.com, Charlie Creme has the Panthers as a nine seed in the Albany regional playing Northwestern in Storrs, Conn. Also the website RealTimeRPI.com has Pitt as a 12 seed playing California in the first round.

These projections are uncharted territory for all of these players in year number two of the McConnell-Serio era. Pitt’s RPI currently is 45 and its strength of schedule is 21.

From a team perspective, the Panthers are scoring 74.2 points per game this season, an increase of 11.5 points while allowing 60.1 points per game a decrease of 9.3 points. Pitt was outscored by 6.7 points a game last year but this year are outscoring opponents by 14.1 points per game – a dramatic turnaround. While the rebounding advantage is just +2.3 this season is a significant improvement in that Pitt is grabbing 6.2 more rebounds a game and was a -6.3 in the same statistic during 2013-14.

Pitt is once again led by Brianna Kiesel who has become a complete point guard. Her scoring is up 1.7 points a game from last season, but more importantly her assist per game total of 4.87 leads the ACC. On her current pace, Kiesel will shatter last season’s assist total by more than 30. Kiesel also still averages around five rebounds a game and already a good free throw shooter is now shooting an even 89 percent from the line which is a 6.5 percent increase from 2013-14.

In earlier posts I went over the freshmen and Monica Wignot so I will just touch on them briefly. McConnell-Serio has consistently mentioned how she has thrown freshmen Aysia Bugg, Stasha Carey and Yacine Diop into the fire and how well they have responded. Were there needed adjustments? Yes, however each has grown tremendously in a short period of time. Wignot is the glue to this team. McConnell-Serio said Wignot must have had a successful volleyball career to give up on basketball. She is very gifted with the game and has played as though she has not missed a beat. Her 49.6 percent field goal percentage leads the Panthers and she is 45.9 percent from three point range which is second best. In the past, Kiesel has had to carry this team, but that certainly is not the case anymore.

Almost all of this success though has come at home. Now the Panthers have road games against two quality ACC opponents in Florida State and Georgia Tech and now Pitt has earned more recognition which includes being mentioned as ESPN W’s team of the week after upsetting the Tar Heels. In the past three seasons, Pitt was 6-28 on the road and is 1-3 this season while now making its first road trip out of state this since Dec. 3.

All it is for Pitt though is another bar it has to surpass and who is to say that this one as the other have before it will be shattered?

“Suzie [McConnell-Serio] does a great job there,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said in the article. “I mean, both sisters [Kathy McConnell-Miller], they know basketball. They competed at the highest levels. They’ve got their kids believing in themselves. … The kids believe in what she’s doing. Kiesel is a heck of a ballplayer. The Wignot kid can shoot the basketball. They’ve got a good team, and they’ve got good pieces that play well together.”

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