This Week at the Pete: Pitt Falls Just Short of Final Four

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This Week at the Pete: Pitt Falls Just Short of Final Four
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"This Week at the Pete" is a weekly column that takes a look at all things Pitt basketball. Your comments are more than welcome and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.

This hurts. This one really hurts.

Pitt had come back from the dead. With their backs against the wall, the Panthers erased four points in 47 seconds against a Villanova team that only missed one free throw on the night. The Panthers had momentum.

Villanova had three players with four fouls. Get the game to overtime and the Wildcats would start dropping like flies. Only 5.5 seconds away from five more minutes against an opponent on the ropes. The Panthers had them just where they wanted them.

Then, in 5.5 seconds, the same amount of time it will take you to read this sentence. Scotty Reynolds etched his name in NCAA tournament lore and the Panthers had a plane ticket back to Pittsburgh.

This was more than just a loss. This was a team that could silence all the critics by making the Final Four. Pitt was just 5.5 seconds away from no longer being the program that couldn’t get over the hump. This would have earned them a whole new level of credibility.

It wasn’t to be.

Worse still, Pitt was on the wrong end of a play that we will see every year for the rest of our lives. The same way Mizzou fans are haunted by Tyus Edney, Pitt fans will be haunted by Scotty Reynolds. The pain wont dissipate until Pitt wins a National Title.

Thanks Scotty. Thanks for making March miserable for the foreseeable future. Rooting for Pitt is going to be a blast next year.

The most infuriating part of all of this is that this Pitt team deserved a Final Four.

The fans deserve it. Anybody who watched the way the crowd responded during Senior Day knows that Pitt has first class fans. Fans that appreciate everything the basketball program has given us this decade.

Unlike fans of basketball’s traditional powers, Pitt fans take none of the team’s success for granted. It’s a fan base that deserved to see their team in the Final Four.

The administration deserves it. I remember a few months ago somebody bashed Chancellor Mark Nordenberg on a message board. About 20 people rushed to the his defense, letting the poster know how many different ways Chancellor Nordenberg has improved the University.

This decade has seen Pitt achieve an unprecedented level of excellence, academically and athletically. The people who make me proud to have a degree from Pitt deserve to have their men’s basketball team playing in the Final Four.

The coaching staff deserves it. Brandon Knight has recruited like a maniac since he became an assistant coach. Without Tom Herron on the bench, Pitt is not nearly as strong offensively. Jamie Dixon has had to deal with Ben Howland’s shadow since Howland left for UCLA.

I’m not sure the program is where it is today if Howland stays. Jamie Dixon is an elite coach and Pitt would be foolish to let him bolt for Arizona or Kentucky this spring. The coaches deserve to be in the Final Four.

The role players deserve it. Pitt might not stock-up on All-Americans like UNC and Duke but they do a great job of finding quality kids who love to win. Guys like Tyrell Biggs, Aston Gibbs, Gary McGhee, Jermaine Dixon, Brad Wanamaker, and Gil Brown all did their part to fit in with the team.

Never a whimper about not getting enough playing time or not getting enough shots. These guys put their egos aside all year. They deserve to be in the Final Four.

DeJuan Blair deserves it. The big man was the face of the program this year, the biggest sports star the school has had since Larry Fitzgerald. DeJuan gave the team an edginess that made them fun to root for.

If he leaves to go pro, I wish him nothing but the best. We’ll always remember No. 45 fondly. DeJuan deserves to play in the Final Four.

Sam Young deserves it. Sam looked miserable for much of this year. By all accounts he was a bit of a loner, a guy who the other players didn’t see much of off the court.

But come tip time, he was the one everyone looked to for a big play. Sam Young came to Pitt as a raw 6’6” power forward who could run, jump, and little else.

He’s leaving four years later with a degree in hand and a polished offensive game. Sam can put the ball on the floor, he can shoot the three, he can hit the open man.

Sam Young worked as hard as any Panther this decade, I just wish he got to showcase it in Detroit. Sam Young deserves to play in the Final Four.

Levance Fields deserves it. My God, does Levance Fields deserve it. Levance Fields deserves it more than anyone else. A kid from the slums with little God given physical ability, Levance worked for everything he’s ever had.

He is the heart and soul of this team. He is the guy who directed everyone to the right spot for the first 39 minutes and the guy who told everyone to get out of the way in the last minute. He is the consummate leader and the best passer I’ve ever seen. Nobody deserves to play in the Final Four more than Levance.

Unfortunately, life is unfair. There are bigger tragedies in the world and Panther nation will have to move on. I just had to let my heart bleed for 963 words before I could too.

The Week that Was

3/26 - Pitt def. Xavier 60-55

The Good:

At least the Panthers finally broke the Sweet 16 curse. Pitt’s win gave the Panther’s their first Elite Eight appearance since 1974.

Pitt did two things in this game they hadn’t done all tournament; play defense and take care of the basketball.

Pitt only turned the ball over nine times while holding the Musketeers to 18 points in the second half.

Levance Fields gets the game ball for hitting the game winner with 50 seconds to go. His 14 point six assist effort was more impressive than the box scores would indicate. This game was a slug-fest and Levance made sure his team answered the bell.

The Bad:

Pitt really couldn’t get into any kind of groove in this game. The finished even on the boards which is a surefire way of knowing they weren’t themselves. They also only had nine assisted field goals out of 22 total field goals. Once the ball left Levance’s hands there was no semblance of fluidity in the offense.

Pitt’s shooting was brutal. The Panthers shot 33 percent from the floor, 27 percent from three and 63 percent from the line. Credit has to be given to Xavier though, the Musketeers are as good a defensive team as Pitt played all year.

The Ugly:

Read my column on being an out of market fan.

3/28- Villanova def. Pitt 78-76

The Good:

This was actually the best game Pitt played since they beat UConn on Senior Day. Pitt did a great job against the press, only committing 11 turnovers on the game. They were also able to get inside at will, DeJuan Blair was a perfect 9-9 from the floor. His 20 point, 10 rebound effort gets the game ball.

Villanova won this game more than Pitt lost it. The Wildcats played very good basketball and happened to shoot 22 of 23 from the foul line while Pitt shot 72 percent. When a team shoots free throws abnormally well, they usually win.

The Bad:

Pitt was out-rebounded by a smaller Villanova squad. This wasn’t really Pitt‘s fault, this was a result of Villanova shooting a lot of three pointers and coming up with a lot of long rebounds. Nothing the Pitt big men could do about those. This was a night were all the bounces just seemed to go Villanova’s way.

What Pitt did poorly was handle the late game situations. Jermaine Dixon made an awful turnover and an even worse foul to allow Villanova to cut a four point lead to one.

Then Pitt allowed Scotty Reynolds to get a full head of steam towards the basket in the final 5.5 seconds. Had Pitt picked up at half court they might have had a better chance of sending the game to overtime.

The Ugly:

The facial expressions on the Pitt players. First the face Jermaine Dixon made when he did a split going after a lose ball. Then the face Levance Fields made when Pitt lost. Just really an awful thing to see.

Race for the Coupons

DeJuan Blair and Sam Young finished tied for the lead in game balls. The will share the TWATP player of the year award. For their efforts, they will each receive some Burger King coupons I have lying around.

Quote of the Week

“This was my favorite team of all time, in any sport.”

- Paul Sievers

Shameless Plug of the Week

Late March means two things. The end of college hoops and start of bar league softball. For those of you who have never been to Long Island, we do bar league softball the was Texas does high school football.

For the third straight year I will be a part of the most exciting team in the Rockville Centre league, Buckley’s Irish Pub. Season tickets are on sale. Go get yours today.

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