The Who might have sung it first, but the Dawg was also barking about it well before the release of the 2006 NCAA men's basketball tournament bracket and final selections Sunday night. Joe Lunardi and every other national pundit might have been giving the Panthers the love they deserved, but I just knew in the end that the committee would be up to their same old tricks once again. Sure enough, they stayed to form and Pitt got ripped again in their seeding.
A fifth seed for the Panthers is just not acceptable, no matter how you dice it. And considering the fact that Pitt has been seeded as the worst #5 seed when following the s-curve used by committee, I consider it almost improbable that the committee believes there are TWENTY FOUR teams better than the Big East Tournament's runner up. But sure enough they did. And what's even more unbelievable is that Pitt's snubbing is so common place by now that no one in the national media even bats an eye. Heck, even Pitt fans were waiting for it.
Sure, maybe I'm being a little picky. Eight teams from the Big East did get bids, the most ever. Considering only one of those teams was a former Conference USA member, it's quite a testament to the strength of the Big East even before the dreaded defections of Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College. So the conference would have had seven bids even in the old fourteen team format.
But all Big East fans should be alarmed by the Panther's unfortunate seeding. That's because after the two #1 seeds (Connecticut and Villanova) no other Big East team was higher than the #5 seeds for both Pitt and Syracuse as rewards for making their conference tournament's final. With multiple higher bids coming from other mid major conferences, it quite alarming to think that after the two best teams in the Big East no one else got any closer than the Panthers. If the conference is as tough as it is, why are the other Big East teams being snubbed for teams from other conferences that have less overall bids?
That's a question only the NCAA selection committee can answer.
I do like the Panther's draw though. The toughest game appears to be a probable match up with the Kansas Jayhawks in the 2nd round. Although Kansas started out slowly with a 3-4 record they really picked it up towards the end of the season by winning the Big 12 conference regular season and tournament championships. Kansas is also one of the few teams in the Panther's Oakland bracket who can match their intensity and athleticism. The winner of that game would have the best chance knock off the two highest seeds in the bracket: Memphis and UCLA. As much as I respect the Tigers and Bruins, they are much more preferable high seeds that the likes of Duke, Connecticut, Texas and Ohio State. Playing Kansas could be draining, but the opportunity to play winnable games later in the bracket should be enough motivation to give the Jayhawks all they can handle should they get by upset-minded #12 Kent State in the first round.
The Dawg can also honestly say he is as mentally drained and tired as the Panthers looked Saturday night. I'm pretty sure most Pitt fans are just as disappointed about coming so close to an improbable Big East championship and then to lose it against an even more unexpected finalist in 9th seeded Syracuse. Perhaps it's fitting that Syracuse is a Big East champion after starting off the tournament with a bang against Cincinnati and continuing on with stunning upsets of UCONN, Georgetown, and finally the Panthers.
For Pitt fans, as fitting as the Orange may be as champions, losing Saturday night still hurts…a lot.
As sweet as it is to say the Panthers have reached the Big East tournament final five out of the last six years, it would have been even more special to win it for the second time in four years. But as let down as we all feel the days after the final, we should not forget how much this team has come in the four days since the tournament started. Considering losing the Big East championship by five points (and beating the 2nd best team in the country in the process) is only good enough for #5 seed in the NCAA tournament, imagine how much worse that seed would have been if the Panther's actually blew that large lead against Louisville, or didn't come out and play lights out against West Virginia in the 2nd half the night after. Pitt was struggling at the toughest time of the year, and a first round exit would have been a terrible way to enter the NCAA tournament. It could have even led to a repeat of last year's swan dive in the postseason.
Yes, it could have been a lot worse.
So the Dawg is very happy, despite the lack of respect shown for the Panthers not only by the selection committee, but by the voters in both the AP and Coaches poll as well. This year's version of the Panthers will not only be able to fly under the radar and succeed in their very favorable bracket, but they also could be peaking at the right time while also playing with a chip on their shoulder.
That's a good sign for all Pitt fans this week.
In the Dawg House: It's the perfect time for the Dawg to hand out his 2006 season awards for Pitt and Big East Basketball. Like the Big East, I plan to do an all conference team (1st team only) and also hand out awards for coach, player, rookie, and most improved player of the year for both the entire Big East and for the Panthers. I included performance in the Big East tournament in my analysis and final decisions.
Let's get to it…
Coach of the Year: Louis Orr, Seton Hall.
I have a huge new-found respect for the job Jamie Dixon did this year. The Panthers answered many questions and were able to put together a very impressive resume for the NCAA tournament selection committee in a year when many thought Pitt was NIT bound. But the Panthers where picked by the conference coaches in the preseason to finish 7th in the conference. As great a year as it was, the Panthers still only finished with the #6 seed in the Big East conference. Maybe the coaches weren't so crazy after all.
Seton Hall, on the other hand, was picked to finish next to last in the sixteen team conference, and yet is on the verge of making the NCAA tournament and finished with the #7 seed in the Big East tournament. Considering Orr and the Pirates were completely written off after losing by fifty three points (53?!!!) to Duke back in November, its even more unbelievable that Seton Hall will probably be dancing with wins over N.C. State, West Virginia, Cincinnati, and Pitt. Who knows if Louis Orr will be able to retain his job after this year, but he certainly demonstrated he could coach under a ton of duress. Kudos are in order for Jay Wright as well, but Villanova was still expected to be one of the top teams in the conference without Curtis Sumpter.
This might be confusing, but I'll explain. In the grand scheme of the Big East, Aaron Gray has risen from a bench player to all conference first team in less than one year. He's first in the league in rebounding and double/double games. In Big East play, Gray has been the determining factor in each of Pitt's wins and losses. The Panther's need him to play huge if they want to make runs in the Big East and NCAA tournaments.
Nobody has been more critical of Antonio Graves this year than the Dawg. He was indecisive on the court and played wildly out of control. In my mind, not only was Dixon right to relegate Graves to a non starter, but maybe it would be wise to consider not playing him much at all. Graves took all of this in stride and by the meat of the Big East schedule was not only playing with more poise and command, he was a major contributor to some big wins and closes losses. I honestly felt Graves was the most improved Panther even before the BET, but Tone's performance against Villanova and Syracuse solidified this pick even more. Look for Graves to start next year and play with even more poise. The Dawg is hard pressed to think of any Panther who has improved so steadily in his first three years more than Graves.
Being one of the better teams in the Big East without one of its best players was to be expected. But did anyone truly think Villanova would be able to win a share of the conference crown without Curtis Sumpter? Somehow a team of four superstar guards and a few journeymen in the frontcourt is the 2nd best team in all of college basketball. That is amazing and no one has contributed to the Wildcats' success more than Randy Foye. The senior guard leads the teams in minutes played (34.2) and points per game (20.2) and is second in rebounds (5.4) assists (3.2) and on a very talented team is still the go to guy when the game is on the line. As talented as Nova is, Foye is the glue that keeps the team together.
Same can be said for Carl Krauser. Two disappointing games at the end of the season have not diminished the impact Krauser had on the Panthers success this year by returning to play out his last year college eligibility. No question that Pitt has some very talented players that have contributed earlier than expected. No player has more of an impact on the success of the team than Krauser. It's no coincidence that five out of the six losses were in games Krauser shot miserably and was not the high scorer for Pitt. Only in the Marquette game was Krauser not really culpable for the loss. As fantastic as Aaron Gray has become, the Panthers have won games he's played poorly and lost games he played well. Love him or hate him, Krauser still matters the most. And if the Panthers are to get anywhere in the post season, they need him to step up and play well and to make smart decisions. If not, the Panthers are doomed to early exits in both the Big East and NCAA tournaments.
Dominic James was awesome this year. Marquette was one of the big surprises this year in the Big East. And as good as Steve Novak is, he wouldn't have been open for all those three pointers without James's penetration ability. There is no question without James that Marquette is a one trick pony that struggles to make the BET (as the coaches predicted at the beginning of the season) than having a first round buy
There is no question that Sam Young has been the most electrifying Pitt freshmen in a long time. His spectacular dunks and hard work inside have been invaluable to the Panthers surprising success this year. As valuable as Sam Young has been, Levance Fields has been even more important. His steady influence running the offense and his timely shooting has been crucial for the Panthers. And never more so than the surprising run to the BET final. Look for Fields to also push Ramon for the starting spot at the point next year as well.
All Conference Team: Just the Dawg's first team. These are the ten best players in the Big East and the players who had the most profound impact on their team's success.
Randy Foye: Villanova
Allan Ray: Villanova
Marcus Williams: Connecticut
Rudy Gay: Connecticut
Carl Krauser: Pittsburgh
Aaron Gray: Pittsburgh
Mike Gansey: West Virginia
Kevin Pittsnoggle: West Virginia
Dominic James: Marquette
Gerry McNamara: Syracuse
In the Dawg House: March 14, 2006 This page © Copyright 2006, Steve Gephart.