Pitt draws Wisconsin in NCAA Tournament

By now, you’ve probably heard that Pitt will return to the Big Dance as a number 10 seed facing off against the 7th seeded Wisconsin Badgers out of the Big Ten.

The Panthers beat Wisconsin in 2004 before they were defeated in the Sweet 16 by Oklahoma State. Obviously, the more recent history between these two schools has nothing to do with basketball, but on the gridiron, as former Pitt head coach Paul Chryst is now  at his alma mater in Madison. I wonder if he’ll be watching?

Wisconsin finished the regular season 20-12 despite the loss of long-time coach Bo Ryan, who retired after a 7-5 start. Greg Gard has done an outstanding job righting the ship in conference play, and they are no doubt a tough out.

For Pitt and head coach Jamie Dixon, just making the tournament is a relief. Panther fans have spent the last week studying potential opponents and match-ups, and just being a part of the Madness is a key step in the right direction for a program that has had some struggles over the past year and a half.

Pitt’s core players—Jamel Artis and Michael Young—are in their junior seasons, and getting a taste of March Madness   as the leaders of the program will be key, regardless of the result in St. Louis.

 

Thankfully for the Panthers, one of their strengths this season is a key weakness for the Badgers. Pitt ranked 44th in the country and 3rd in the ACC in offensive rebounds, which has proven to be a key staple in their success on that end of the floor. Conversely, Wisconsin ranks 273rd in the country in defensive rebounding, and 14th in the Big Ten.

 

Despite Wisconsin’s rebounding woes, it’s safe to say scoring will most likely be at a premium for the Panthers. The Badgers rank first in the Big Ten allowing only 63.9 points per game.

Worse news for Pitt fans is the way Greg Gard’s squad has been playing since mid-January. Wisconsin has won 11 of 14 games over the last two months, with four of those victories coming against ranked opponents—that’s more victories over the top 25 than Pitt had all season.

Badgers’ leading scorer Nigel Hayes is averaging over 16 points per game, and second leading scorer Ethan Happ adds 12 of his own on 53 percent shooting.

However, they have lost their last two games, first to Purdue and then in the Big Ten tournament verse Nebraska. In both of those games, they allowed their opponent to dictate the pace of the game and score over 70 points.

The Badgers are a still a dangerous team, and had it not been for a slow start under Bo Ryan would be seeded much higher. They’ve had their recent struggles, but will have history on their side. Wisconsin are 13-3 in first round games since 2000, and I don’t see Pitt adding a fourth loss to that impressive statistic.

Wisconsin has been inconsistent, but so have the Panthers. Pitt won just two of their last five games, and unfortunately can’t face Syracuse in every game in route to the Final Four.

Jamie Dixon and co. have been hearing about the supposed stagnation of the basketball program for weeks now, and that talk surely will not go away with a first round exit.

Missing the tournament this year was not an option, and a good showing could be a big stepping stone for the program going into next season. But fans should learn to trust Dixon, and perhaps more importantly new Athletic Director Scott Barnes, as he molds Pitt basketball into the perennial top-25 contender we expect them to be.

Prediction: 62-55 Wisconsin