In shocking, yet somehow predictable fashion, Pitt lost a heart-breaker to Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, 47-43.
I realize that statement contradicts itself, but rules do not apply when discussing the University of Pittsburgh basketball program.
I’ve watched this program for ten years—and man, has it been a roller coaster. Earlier this week I predicted the Panthers would lose by seven in a slightly higher scoring affair than the UFC match we just witnessed. I didn’t even see this type of loss coming. I was right and wrong at the same time.
Pitt jumped out to an early lead, with Wisconsin shooting an abysmal percentage and scoring just 16 points in the first half. Surely, this was a game that Jamie Dixon’s squad should have won. But the offense was ugly, inefficient and flat out disgusting at times. And the Badgers were handing them the game! Once again, they refused to take it…and this has become a pattern.
Jamie Dixon made his typical mistakes in this game. Despite his offensive sets looking like something my rec basketball/failed army sergeant drew up, he also played Ryan Luther only three minutes. That’s unfathomable for an impact player this late in the season.
Alonzo Nelson-Ododa, who averages 1.4 pts per game, played 13 minutes and scored 0 pts. Dixon can preach matchups all he wants, Luther could’ve provided a much needed spark off the bench. Instead, Jamie went with a scrub who did not see any minutes during the ACC Tournament.
The players certainly aren’t without fault here either. James Robinson didn’t play like a senior point guard. Michael Young was at the game, apparently, but six points and five rebounds really isn’t enough from your star player. Jamel Artis showed up and led the team with 13 points. Sadly, that’s ¼ of all points scored.
Yet, we’ve seen this before. The players, league and opponent may change, but this result in a big NCAA Tournament game is all too familiar.
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I find it strange that every critique of Jamie Dixon begins with an apology. “Dixon is an excellent coach, but…” is simply diverging from the obvious statement that Pitt can’t get anyone better for the job. Jamie is a good coach and he may be the right man for the job, We deserve better, the disappointment has to end.
And perhaps it’s unfair to single out Dixon when his coaching staff has also continuously contributed to the stagnation of this program. Athletic Director Scott Barnes likely sees his chance to put his stamp on Dixon’s staff, and a few changes are necessary and expected.
Despite all of this, Pitt could have a big season and prove everyone, including me, wrong about the direction of this program. Young and Artis are entering their senior seasons with real motivation to make a run in the ACC and cement their legacy at Pitt. Luther and Cameron Johnson should make a bigger impact, as well as Damon Wilson. There are reasons to be excited about the direction Pitt is heading.
But why does it feel like we’ve been here before? Just like the last play in St. Louis (I’ve made it this far without mentioning it), the Panthers seem to get in their own way far more than not.