After missing out on the NCAA tournament a year ago (although they were champions of the CBI Tournament for what it’s worth), Jamie Dixon and the Pittsburgh Panthers will be returning to The Big Dance this year, without question. There were some doubts about whether or not Dixon and the Panthers would be able to rebound from a season that included a five-game losing streak and an eight-game losing streak. Those doubts continued when Pittsburgh lost three of its first four Big East games following a less than challenging non-conference schedule, but the Panthers were able to rebound and are now a sure thing for The Big Dance.
The Panthers have gone back to being the type of team we’ve been accustom to seeing during Dixon’s tenure: tough, physical, and strong defensively. Pittsburgh is all of those things this year, in addition to being a deep team, as well as a team that’s loaded with juniors and seniors. This tough, talented, and experienced responded to its slump at the start of conference play by winning seven of its next eight games, a stretch that included wins over the Villanova Wildcats, Connecticut Huskies, Syracuse Orange, and Cincinnati Bearcats. It was that stretch that helped put the Panthers into the NCAA Tournament conversation.
Pitt started to slip back onto the bubble in the middle of February after back-to-back losses, including a home loss to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, but they fought back to win their next three games, including an overtime thriller against Villanova, to solidify their spot in The Big Dance. The Panthers appear poised to ride a four-game winning streak into The Big East Tournament next week, where they should be considered a threat to take home a championship.
Pittsburgh has already played its way back into the NCAA Tournament after missing it last year; they have already played their way off the bubble and into the field of 68; and in New York they’ll have a chance to play their way into a top-4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers have come a long way in the past year, and this March they’ll have a chance to go even further.