Pitt earns No. 9 seed in first NCAA tournament game

The NCAA tournament brackets were unveiled Sunday, and Pitt had a viewing party in the club at Petersen Events Center. But the Panthers were called so quickly, none of the players had ample opportunity to watch it.

In fact, Pitt was in the first "pod" unveiled, and none of the players or coaches were even seated in front of the big-screen TV to give the standard team cheer that is often a part of the selection show.

"It happened so fast I didn't even get a chance to react," senior forward Lamar Patterson said with a laugh.

Regardless of the party being over quickly, the important thing is Pitt is in the NCAA tournament for the 12th time in 13 years and for the second year in a row. The Panthers (25-9) are a No. 9 seed and will play No. 8 Colorado in the second round at 1:40 p.m. Thursday in Orlando, Fla. They potentially will have to face the team many have installed as the favorite to win the national championship, top overall seed Florida, in the third round.

Colorado (23-11) finished in a five-way tie for third place in the Pacific-12 Conference.

If Pitt beats the Buffaloes, it would advance to play Saturday against Florida (32-2) or the winner of the first-round game between No. 16 seeds Albany (18-14) and Mount St. Mary's (16-16).

Jamie Dixon said he doesn't know much about Colorado, but that's not a big deal because part of the charm of the NCAA tournament is the opportunity to play against unfamiliar opponents.

"I know a little bit about them, I know their coach, coach [Tad] Boyle. I have gotten to know him over the past couple of years being a part of Nike," Dixon said. "I know they have a lot of guys from California, some of their guards, they are obviously a Pac-12 team. We have six tapes up there in the office waiting to go watch on them and we should have a good feel for them by Thursday.

"But our focus is on them. They are a No. 8 and we are the No. 9, so we are the underdog going in, but we have to go out and play good basketball. We have been playing our best basketball of the year, so we are looking forward to the opportunity."

Dixon, who said he might consult old friend and former UCLA coach Ben Howland about Colorado, said the Panthers will work hard through the week to get ready for the Buffaloes, but he couldn't avoid questions about the potential prospect of having to play against Florida in Orlando.

He pointed out that the Panthers have been very good in games away from Petersen Events Center -- they are 12-4 in neutral-site and road games -- and that they just beat North Carolina in Greensboro, N.C., in the ACC tournament. But he added that it doesn't matter where the game is or who the opponent is, Pitt just needs to play well.

"We'll be focused on Colorado here, that's really what we need to do," Dixon said. "We've [played a virtual road game in the NCAA tournament] before and there have been times when we have been the higher-seeded team and played a road game. It is what it is; you are going to play good people.

"Obviously we know the rest of the bracket, but we will see how it all plays out."

The Buffaloes have some impressive wins, including a non-conference win against Kansas, but they are a much different team now than they were for the first 17 games of the season before they lost star point guard Spencer Dinwiddie to a torn ACL.

With Dinwiddie, they were 14-3. Without him, they are 9-8 and stumbled to the finish line. He was their leader in scoring (14.7 points per game) and assists (3.8 per game), as well as their best perimeter defender.

"It was hard for their team once he went down," Dixon said. "They have good players that have stepped up. We have to be ready. They still have guards capable of making things happen."

Without Dinwiddie, the Buffaloes have had a combination of players run the point and they have had a tougher time scoring. But they play good defense and have a couple of players who can hit 3-pointers.

"They play hard, they shoot it well," Patterson said. "We don't know much about them, but if they are in the tournament, they are a good team that has won a lot of games."

The ACC got six teams into the field, which is one more than most projected as North Carolina State, which won at Pitt in the final week of the season and then made a run to the ACC tournament semifinals, snuck in as one of the final at-large selections.

Dixon said he was glad to see the Wolfpack get in and Virginia get a No. 1 seed because it speaks volumes about the respect the ACC has with the selection committee.

"I was very surprised," Dixon said. "I am glad for the conference. I hadn't looked at the numbers [Sunday], but I had asked the question about a few teams that people had down as locks and I had some different thoughts and it turned out that way. I didn't know who the next team in was going to be, but as I look at it now, it makes sense to me."

The Panthers played four NCAA tournament teams outside of the ACC, Albany, Cal Poly, Cincinnati and Stanford, and were 3-1.

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.

First Published March 16, 2014 6:10 PM

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