Pitt Panthers, Duquesne Dukes Have Mixed NCAA Tournament Success


Feb 26, 2015; South Bend, IN, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers guard Brianna Kiesel (3) dribbles as Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Mychal Johnson (14) defends in the first half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Three NCAA regions had come and gone with no local flavor and no reactions from the Pitt Panthers women’s basketball team. You could cut the tension with a knife.

With two more games to reveal, the Panthers were still unsure if they would make the tournament. Two years earlier coach Suzie McConnell-Serio had been through the exact same scenario: all of the experts having her team in the tournament, only to be turned away by the NCAA Tournament committee.

“I’ve been in this situation before where you wait and wait and you don’t hear your name called,” McConnell-Serio said. “I was getting to the point where I was nervous because all along we were predicted to be a 12 seed, never imagined we would be in a 7-10 game.

“They could put us at any seed and send us anywhere, just to be a part of the NCAA Tournament is an experience these players will never forget for the rest of their lives.”

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  • It was to the point that media members covering Pitt were nearly asked to leave so McConnell-Serio did not have to undergo another heartbreak in front of the media. This time however the tension was replaced by screams as the Panthers found out they made the tournament as a 10-seed. Pitt will face Chattanooga Saturday at 11 a.m.

    “I’m so excited just to be here as a team, our excitement that we had here,” guard Brianna Kiesel said. “We didn’t even get a chance to fully look at it, all we saw was Pittsburgh and we all automatically jumped up, we’re just that excited. For coach to come in here and turn the program around in two years, how amazing is that?”

    Just down the road at Duquesne, the same cannot be said as instead the Dukes fell just short of the NCAA Tournament and will return to the WNIT to face Youngstown State in a road contest.

    “I must say that it really stings,” coach Dan Burt said. “Am I bitter? Yes, without a doubt, and a lot of other emotions too. That’s to be expected. At the end of the day, we have to take this hurt and moved forward.”

    Duquesne closed its season at 10-2 and made the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament semifinals after placing third during the regular season.

    The Dukes thought they had everything set. The NCAA wanted them to have a tough schedule. Check [see Green Bay, Princeton, Syracuse and Pitt, all NCAA Tournament teams]. It wanted teams that were in form. Check.

    Duquesne’s flaws may have been what it did not do. It is not in a power conference; it cannot help that. George Washington got hosed just for losing one game and now instead of potentially hosting a game or to at a 3-seed fell down to a 6-seed.

    The Dukes lost on the road to Providence which won six games all season. There is no excuse for that. That is a horrible loss. A late-season loss to Saint Joseph’s also was not good either but how much that undid what was a great finish for the Dukes is anybody’s guess.

    In reality, Duquesne got hosed because the NCAA told them one thing and the committee reacted differently and went in another direction towards getting a power conference another tournament berth. The Dukes have wonder to wonder how this would happen and why. They have a legitimate case.

    After all Miami, Arkansas and Tulane were picked as bubble teams ahead of them. Miami had beaten Notre Dame, however Duquesne had a better RPI than all three teams. Again, could it be the selection committee taking the easy way out and picking larger programs in the cases of Miami and Arkansas? Only the committee can answer that question.

    Back on Forbes Avenue and up Cardiac Hill, the Panthers were in full celebration mode.

    In the 2012-13 season, Pitt was on an absolute low. So low to the point that players do not even want to talk about it. That prompted the decision to go in a different direction and hire Suzie McConnell-Serio. No one could have expected this much change into a team in two short seasons.

    Nick Rivers has been around Pitt for years. He first was a student manager for the men’s basketball team for two seasons, then became a walk-on with the team from fall 2009-2011. Rivers continued to stay in Pittsburgh after graduation and now is in his second season as the director of basketball operations.

    Picked last in the ACC preseason poll Rivers much like the rest of the coaching staff knew the task was a big one but also is aware that the team did not panic.

    “It goes to show that when you have a mission and you have good players, good team dynamic, players that buy in and a great coach, that the formula when mixed together with the people outside of the program that support you it goes to show you can do anything,” Rivers said. “It’s not about where you’re picked, it’s how you finish, they did what they had to do.”

    That resolve is the reason why senior center Cora McManus got to pick her coach up off the ground in celebration and is also the reason why the very same head coach was able to fulfill her promise with Kiesel.

    “I told you we would make your senior year special,” McConnell-Serio said.

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