Three weeks ago, Pitt was being projected as the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. By the time the selection came along they were hoping to cling to a No. 1 seed, which they did.
However, rather than winding up in the East Regional they were placed in the Southeast Regional and would have to play in New Orleans for the regional championship.
Pitt didn't know what to expect.
"I don't know," senior guard Brad Wanamaker told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Us winning the regular season may keep us a No. 1 seed, but sometimes things get tricky with us losing in the tournament."
They still are a force entering the tournament, a strong rebounding and defensive team who survived the grind that is the Big East regular season.
Certainly Pitt has the talent to make a run at a national title, despite some problems late in the year. In guard Ashton Gibbs they have a dynamic scorer and Wanamaker is one of the top all-around players in the college game.
The Panthers are a rugged rebounding team, perhaps the nation's best, and a solid defensive unit. Underrated center Gary McGhee makes a huge difference inside as a defensive player and rebounder.
If there is a flaw it is that Pitt is not as comfortable playing away from home as it is in the cozy confines of Petersen Events Center, where it loses about as often as it is 80 degrees in December in Pittsburgh.
--Pitt has been one of the most consistent programs in the country over the last nine years. It is one of only three programs with 20 or more victories, 10 or more league victories and an NCAA tournament appearance in each of the past nine years. Only Kansas and Gonzaga have matched that. Pitt's 245-66 record and .789 winning percentage is among the nation's best during that time.
--The Panthers have advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 five times in the last nine seasons. Only Duke (7) and Kansas (6) have been there more often. Last year when Pitt reached the Elite Eight it was the first time since 1974 to get that far.
--Pitt's senior class owns a 110-28 career record, which is an .802 winning percent, the second best in school history.
COACH: Jamie Dixon, eight years at Pittsburgh, eighth post-season appearance (8th NCAA). Dixon holds the NCAA Division I record for most victories in his first eight years as head coach, 215.
KEYS TO VICTORY: The first thing you notice is that there is no formula for beating Pitt. The Panthers have so many weapons and are so consistent that there is no thread that ties the losses together. For example, you may think containing Gibbs will work but he scored 26 and 27 in the team's last two losses. To handle Pitt you have to first do a job of getting on the boards and on getting back to prevent them from having run-outs, something they like to do when presented the opportunity. While Gs Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker are key to the offense, it runs at its best when they are involving the two forwards, Nasir Robinson and Gilbert Brown, each athletic and strong who can go to the basket as well as hit the offensive boards. Perhaps the best thing any opponent has when facing Pitt in the NCAA Tournament is that the Panthers are not on their home court, where they almost never lose.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We talked about winning all three crowns. That's what we talked about all year, regular season, Big East and NCAA, we didn't get this one but it is extra motivation for an NCAA Tournament." -- G Ashton Gibbs, after Pitt lost its first game after a double-bye in the Big East Tournament.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
vs. winner of the North-Carolina-Ashville-Arkansas-Little Rock play-in game, March 17, NCAA Tournament second round
KEY MATCHUPS: The No. 1 seed in the Southeast Region and the regular-season champion in the Big East, Pitt starts a new season after falling in its first game of the Big East Tournament. The Panthers figure to be too big and strong for an Asheville team that ranked 121st in rebounding and that relies on defense against a team that scored a lot of points at a lower level. If Little Rock gets in, they will be facing a team that was just 19-16 and that ranked 201 in points per game, 249 in rebounds per game and 241 in field goal percentage. If they win they face the winner of the Old Dominion Butler matchup.
SCOUTING REPORT: Pitt the kind of team that imposes its will on the opponent. It does it with physical play and with defense, trying to keep the game in the 60s, although with guards Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker it can play an uptempo game. Defense is Pitt's strength, however, and, there are few teams more relentless about it then Pitt. The defense starts from the inside out as C Gary McGhee is one of the best defensive centers the school has ever had. That gives the guards and athletic forwards like Gilbert Brown and Nasir Robinson freedom to gamble. The guards, especially Wanamaker, are quick and apply pressure and Pitt is deep enough that they can keep the pressure all game. Offensively, Gibbs can hit from the outside while Robinson and Brown will slash to the basket with Wanamaker making it all work.
--Junior G Ashton Gibbs, who missed three games in mid-season, came back with a fury, scoring 26 points against St. John's. After four straight games without reaching 20 points, Gibbs put it together in a losing effort to Connecticut in the Big East Tournament, hitting 10 of 13 from the field and 6 of 7 on 3-points shots to score 27 in a head-to-head duel with Kemba Walker. Gibbs was named to the All-Big East first team.
--Senior G Brad Wanamaker was named to the All-Big East second, a tribute to his all-around play. During the season he joined G Carl Krauser (2002-06) as one of only two players in Panthers history to register over 1,000 points, grab 500 rebounds and dish out 400 assists in a career. Wanamaker also became one of only three players in school history to average over 10.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists in two different seasons (Krauser and Jerry McCullough). In addition, Wanamaker is one of only five players in program annals to accumulate over 300 points and 150 assists in two seasons. As important, Wanamaker became the third Pitt player to win the Big East Sportsmanship Aware, joining Jaron Brown (2003-04) and Ronald Ramon (2007-08).
--Senior C Gary McGhee is among the most improved players in the game also among the most valuable. Pitt lost to UConn in the Big East Tournament in no small measure because McGhee was in foul trouble. McGhee is a defensive and rebounding force in the middle who has become an adequate scorer over the past two years. The 6-11, 250-pound McGhee is one of the most durable players around despite as much banging as he does, having started 68 consecutive games at center for the Panthers.