Pitt Panthers earn No. 8 seed after most experts had them higher



Silence came over the Campus View Club inside Petersen Events Center shortly before 6:30 p.m. Sunday. The so-called experts who had been projecting Pitt as a No. 5 or 6 seed were wrong.

The NCAA selection committee deemed the Panthers worthy of a No. 8 seed and placed them in the West Region in the same bracket as No. 1 seed Gonzaga.

Pitt will play No. 9 seed Wichita State at 1:40 p.m. Thursday in an NCAA tournament second-round game at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City. If the Panthers win they will play Saturday against the winner of a game between Gonzaga and No. 16 seed Southern.

"I'm just happy we're back to being in the tournament," senior captain Tray Woodall said. "An 8 seed, no one is happy with it, but we're just happy to be back and ready to compete."

Pitt missed the NCAA tournament a year ago for the first time in a decade. This is the lowest the Panthers have been seeded since 2005, when they were a No. 9 seed and lost to Pacific in the first round.

It also was deathly silent in the same room that Sunday night eight years ago.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon seemed less surprised with the lower seed than his players. After being handed a lower seed in 2005 when he thought the Panthers were destined for a higher seed, he became an expert on the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) and how it affected seeding. He learned how to schedule home non-conference games that would raise the Panthers' RPI, mostly by guesstimating which teams from the lower-level conferences would win their leagues and have high RPIs by the end of the season.

Pitt's non-conference schedule was weak this season. Its non-conference schedule rank was 269th among 347 Division I teams. The Panthers only played one team from a power conference -- Michigan -- and lost that game.

The Panthers were supposed to play two more teams from major conferences. Virginia was upset in the preliminary round of the NIT Tip-Off tournament by Delaware and the Panthers beat the Blue Hens in the NIT consolation game after losing to Michigan.

Pitt also was expected to take part in the Big East/SEC Challenge. Dixon was promised a home game by the Big East, but the conference reneged and blocked the Panthers from participating in the event, in effect penalizing them for leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Dixon said he believed the selection committee was cognizant of the scheduling issues he faced.

"I think they're aware of things," Dixon said. "Sometimes things work certain ways. I'm not going to put too much being down a line or two. I figured we'd be in a different part of the country. Every year, every team, except when you're a 1, you think you can be a higher seed."

Pitt has some recent experience against Wichita State. The Panthers beat the Shockers, 68-55, in the CBE Classic in 2009 in Kansas City, Mo.

Tray Woodall, Dante Taylor and Lamar Patterson played in that game. Woodall had 19 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds and 4 steals in the victory.

Wichita State was 26-8 and finished in second place in the Missouri Valley Conference with a 12-6 record.

"I know they have a great program," Woodall said. "We're definitely ready for them. We know a lot of their sets. I know we have film from when we previously played them."

Wichita State, like Pitt, plays a 10-man rotation. The leading scorer for the Shockers is Cleanthony Early, a 6-foot-8 forward who averages 13.6 points per game.

Wichita State's best victories came against VCU and Creighton. The Shockers also lost to Creighton twice.

Pitt and Wichita State played three common opponents: Howard, DePaul and Detroit. The Panthers and Shockers won their games against those teams.

"They're a physical team," Dixon said. "They take great pride in their physicality. Size and strength is always one of their attributes."

Since 2005, when the Panthers made the tournament, they were always a top-five seed. They were a No. 5 seed in 2006, a No. 4 seed in 2008, a No. 3 seed in 2007 and 2010, and a No. 1 seed in 2009 and 2011.

Before losing Thursday to Syracuse in the Big East Conference tournament, most of the projections had Pitt as a No. 5 seed. Among the major websites, only Andy Glockner of Sports Illustrated had the Panthers as a No. 8 seed last week, and he moved them up to a No. 7 Sunday before the selection show.

"We can't cry about it, just be happy with what we got," senior center Dante Taylor said. "We have to just go out and prove to people that we deserve to be higher."

Added Dixon: "Things occur that are beyond your control. You're going to play someone good whether you're a 5, 6, 7 or 8. We ended up an 8. We can't do anything about that. What we can do is play well Thursday."

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Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published March 18, 2013 4:00 AM


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