Unsurprisingly, Pitt bowed out of the NCAA tournament with a 61-45 loss to Florida today. Unlike prior March disappointments, Pitt represented itself well this time around. They made it to the semifinal of the ACC tournament where they lost to eventual champion Virginia, and they won their opening round NCAA tournament game in dominating fashion by beating Colorado by 29.
Unlike prior seasons, expectations were not high for this year’s team. There was a lot of roster turnover in last year’s offseason, so one could consider making it to the NCAA a success for this team. However, had things gone a little differently, Pitt could have had a special season. So I’ve labeled this season “what could have been.”
In the offseason prior to the 2013-14 campaign
When Steve Adams unexpectedly declared for the NBA draft after his freshman year, Pitt’s chances at a successful season took a serious hit. Without Adams, Pitt lost their most dominant inside presence. While Talib Zanna stepped up to take his place, it wasn’t the same, and the depth to make a serious run wasn’t there. It also didn’t help that fifth year senior JJ Moore decided to transfer to Rutgers. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but mid-season injuries made his absence felt.
Heartbreak, disappointment, and bad luck
Pitt started the season a perfect 10-0. The opponents were soft, and Pitt won most games by over 20 points. Unfortunately, that’s when heartbreak, disappointment and bad luck hit.
- December 17 – Cincinnati
For its first quality opponent of the season, Pitt played former Big East rival Cincinnati. In a tight, defensive battle, Pitt held a 43-42 edge with senior standout Lamar Patterson at the line with 21 seconds left. He missed both free throws. and Cincinnati scored on a putback at the buzzer to win by one. It would be a recurring theme throughout the season.
- January 11 – Wake Forest
While Pitt would win this game easily, sixth man Durand Johnson suffered a season ending knee injury toward the end of the game. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but as the season would wear on, his lack of scoring and outside shooting would haunt the Panthers.
- January 18 – Syracuse
For its second test of the season, Pitt faced Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. Pitt entered the contest 16-1, and Syracuse was undefeated at 17-0. In the second half, Pitt came back from a ten point deficit to take a three point lead with under five minutes left. Pitt had the ball with a chance to extend the lead to five but turned it over. They were unable to make plays down the stretch and ended up losing by five. They would refer to it the rest of the season as “the one that got away.”
- February 2 – Virginia
In a tight defensive battle that was tied with under 5 seconds remaining, Pitt lost another heart-breaker when Malcolm Brogdon hit a three to give Virginia a 48-45 win.
- February 12 – Syracuse
Syracuse came to Pittsburgh still undefeated, and the number one team in the country. The game was close throughout, and Talib Zanna sank two free throws with four seconds remaining to give Pitt at 56-55 lead. That’s when Tyler Ennis took the inbounds, dribbled up the sideline, stepped over half court, and launched a 40 footer that hit the bottom of the net at the buzzer. Game over – Syracuse 58, Pittsburgh 56.
- March 15 – Virginia
In another tight game with Virginia in the ACC tournament semifinals, Pitt was down three with time running out. James Robinson stole the ball, raced the length of the court, and made a contested layup with 10 seconds left to bring Pitt within one, 49-48. Replays would show he was fouled, but Robinson was not given the opportunity to tie the game from the line. Virginia would go on to win by three, 51-48.
Despite the heartbreak, the season wasn’t all bad. There were also a number of highs.
- November 26 – Stanford
In what was supposed to be their first test of the season, Pitt manhandled Stanford on their way to an 88-67 victory in the championship game of the Progressive Legends Classic.
- January 21 – Clemson
In their first game after giving away the Syracuse game at the Carrier Dome, Pitt responded with a dominating 76-43 performance at home over Clemson.
- February 8 – Virginia Tech
Pitt was stumbling after the Virginia loss and was in serious danger of dropping its third straight home game to Virginia Tech, the worst team in the conference. Down four with under a minute left, James Robinson converted a four-point play, and Pitt edged Virginia Tech in double OT, 62-57.
- March 8 – Clemson
After the second Syracuse loss, Pitt was stumbling having lost 4 of 6. They were in danger of missing the NCAA tournament and desperately needed a win on the road. Pitt was down five when Lamar Patterson hit a three with 3 seconds remaining. On the ensuing inbounds play, the ball was deflected to a surprised Josh Newkirk who pump-faked and then threw the ball in as time expired. After a lengthy review, the shot was ruled good, and Pitt went on to win the game 83-78 in overtime.
- March 14 – North Carolina
Still fighting for its NCAA tournament life, Pitt jumped out to huge lead on North Carolina. While UNC made things tight toward the end of the game, Pitt held on to beat the Tarheels 80-75. Its first quality win of the season cemented Pitt’s place in the NCAA’s field of 68.
- March 20 – Colorado
In its opening round NCAA game, Pitt jumped out to a 13-0 lead and built a 28-point halftime edge. Colorado wouldn’t get closer than 27 the rest of the way as Pitt domainted, 77-48. It was Jamie Dixon’s first coaching win over a higher seeded team in the tournament.
Overall, a success
Overall, I would consider the 2013-2014 a success. In fact, with a few breaks here and there, it could have been a special season. For a team that many people figured would not make the tournament, Pitt represented itself well and gave itself a chance to pull the upset through 20 minutes with Florida. Unfortunately, the deeper team with better athletes took over in the second half.
Regardless, the freshman on the team showed a lot of promise, so the future continues to look bright for Pitt basketball. As always, it will be a long wait, but I’m looking forward to the beginning of another season in November. We can only hope that it will have less heartbreak, disappointment, and bad luck than this past one.