Sunday, April 05, 2009

#116: Pitt Run Done


The Pitt Panthers men's basketball team had probably their best season ever.

Prior to the start of the 2008-2009 season, Pitt had never:

- Defeated a #1 ranked team

- Been a #1 ranked team

- Advanced beyond the Sweet Sixteen round in the NCAA Tournament (after the field expanded to 64 teams)

This season, they did all three (and they accomplished the first two things twice. And they were within a few moments and a couple turnovers of advancing to their first Final Four since 1941.

Unfortunately, the title of this post does not just refer to the end of the season. With the certain departures of Forward Sam Young and Point Guard Levance Fields, as well as the likely departure of Center Dejuan Blair (though he has denied it), the three players who really made the true difference as the blue and gold traversed the deadly Big East, it marks the end of what will be a consecutive string of 20-win seasons and strong showings against quality programs. Tyrell Biggs' graduation won't help, either.

While the recruitment effort surely saw a boost this year with the Panthers establishing themselves in the national limelight, there is going to be a year or two when Jamie Dixon's squad will be simply a mediocre team.

Watching Brad Wanamaker choke at the free throw line throughout the tournament and take stupid fouls was not encouraging.

Seeing Jermaine Dixon cough up the basketball at the midcourt stripe (with a four point lead) late against Villanova, and then committing a foul on the other end (contesting what was an almost-certain layup, anyway) was probably what ultimately cost the Panthers a berth in the Final Four.

The players who remain, even with the added experience of being on an Elite Eight team, aren't the same type of players that they're losing. They haven't shown the potential to become those.

The 2009-2010 Panthers' squad will be the true measuring stick as to how good of a coach Jamie Dixon is.

This is not to say that Dixon is even just an average coach. There are coaches with more talent year after year who have failed to accomplish what Dixon has done. Gameplans are going to have to change. Louisville, West Virginia, and even Connecticut (who may be facing punishment from the NCAA for recruitment violations) are all young teams. Notre Dame is showing some promise. It is uncertain what Villanova will look like.

The point is that the Big East is not going to fade into a sub-par conference anytime in the near future, and Pitt will have a large target on their back, even if the main reasons for their success this season won't be there this fall.

Expect Pitt to take a large step back next season, perhaps even in the manner that the Georgetown Hoyas did this year.

On the very slim chance that Dejuan Blair does not leave for the NBA, there will still be a significant step back, but the Panthers might be able to eke into the NCAA tournament as a double-digit seed.

One thing is for certain: Radio listeners will have to prepare for color announcer Dick Groat's constant stream of groans.

That may be the most unpleasant thing of all.


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