Ray Fittipaldo's NCAA Tournament chat transcript: 3.19.14

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Poll Question: Of the 12 or lower seeds, which is most likely to make the deepest tournament run?

NC State (57%); Wofford (14%); Stephen F. Austin (29%); Harvard (0%); North Dakota State (0%); Western Michigan (0%) 

Ray Fittipaldo: OK. It's 1 o'clock. Let's get it started. Post your NCAA tournament questions.

Mike: With Pitt playing up/down to their competition, typically, can they hang with Florida if they can get to that game? Maybe even pull off the shocker?

Ray Fittipaldo: I watched almost every Pitt game from January on and the Panthers looked as good as they had all year long in the ACC tournament. They handled Wake Forest with ease and controlled North Carolina for most of that game until late when things got hairy. And even though they lost to Virginia I was impressed with the way they hung in there vs. a No. 1 seed. I like Pitt to beat Colorado and to face Florida in the round of 32. I like Pitt to give the Gators a really good game. I don't think their chances of winning are great, but I think it will be respectable. Florida went unbeaten through the SEC and has all the pieces to win the title. They are the odds-on favorite.

Mike: In retrospect, would Pitt have been better off playing Carolina competitively and then losing, thus probably going into the tournament as a 10 seed, avoiding the #1 see in the second round. A look at the 7s isn't anyone all that more impressive than Colorado.

Ray Fittipaldo: That was my immediate thought when I saw the unveiling of the brackets Sunday night, but if Pitt was a No. 10 seed in the same region its first game would be against New Mexico, which is a very good team. The Lobos are strong inside and might have been a tougher matchup than Colorado, which pretty much has been a .500 team since Dinwiddie, its point guard, was lost for the season in January. I guess it depends which region Pitt was in. The other 7 seeds are good, too. Oregon won 7 in a row to end the regular season. UConn has its moments throughout the year as has Texas.

Guest: Just a comment...I think FLA could be slightly over-flated given the SEC was horrible this year and only 3 tourney teams, which should have been 2.

Ray Fittipaldo: I understand the SEC is not a great basketball league, but the Gators were 21-0!. I don't care what league you are in, if you win that many games in a row in a major conference you are a very good team. Wichita State did the same thing in the Missouri Valley Conference. I know some people are saying the Shockers are overrated, too, but I don't think so.

Dan: Who is your tournament favorite and your sleeper?

Ray Fittipaldo: I like Florida. I'll give you my other Final Four teams, too -- Michigan State, Louisville and Arizona, although I have some misgiving about the Wildcats because of the way they played down the stretch. As far as sleepers go there are plenty to choose from. I really like NC State against St. Louis. I saw St. Louis in person when the Billikens beat Duquesne. The Dukes should have won that game. I didn't walk away impressed with them. Sure enough, they lost four of five entering the tourney. I think they are ripe for an upset. I also like the matchup Harvard has vs. Cincinnati. The Bearcats are a tough defensive team, but they have trouble scoring. Harvard is making its third consecutive appearance in the NCAA. The Crimson won't be wowed by the atmosphere. Plus, they beat New Mexico last year to get to the round of 32. I'm also trying to talk myself into Western Michigan over Syracuse and North Dakota State over Oklahoma. I would not be surprised if those upsets happened either.

Fred: Please analyze JDs "underdog" statement. Trying to lower expectations?

Ray Fittipaldo: I covered Pitt for 10 years and I don't read anything into the statement. Pitt loves being in the underdog role even when it is seeded 1 or 2 in the tournament. When the Panthers were winning Big East titles they loved to make themselves the underdog. I guess the only thing to read into it is they actually are now because they are a No. 9 seed.

CK: What would the potential point spread be in a UF/Pitt matchup?

Ray Fittipaldo: Good question. My guess would be 8 or 9. Pitt doesn't got blown out much. The only time this season was against Duke, right. The Blue Devils won by 15 at the Pete. Every other game was tightly contested for the most part.

LookingForAReason: In your opinion, what has been more frustratingly painful for the local sports fan - Pitt's NCAA tourney history or the Steelers' most recent two games against the Oakland Raiders. Why should us fans expect anything different this year? They consistently seem to just give you enough hope to be thoroughly disappointed.

Ray Fittipaldo: I know what you mean. I covered all of those previous disappointments in the past decade. I can honestly say Pitt lost to better teams on almost every occasion. Look at Wichita State. The Shockers went on to the Final Four last year. Butler, in 2011, upset Pitt when it was a No. 1 seed and made it to the Final Four. There is a notion out there that Pitt is not built for the NCAA tournament, that its style (low-scoring, tight defensive games) does not always translate. Until the Panthers prove us wrong, we're all going to be skeptical of their chances. But I'm telling you, one of these years they're going to make a run when no one expects it. Maybe this is the year.

Guest: Will somebody on Pitt step up and shoot the ball? It seems like our younger players are nervous to shoot the ball and only dish to Zanna and Patterson.

Ray Fittipaldo: I think that's the biggest problem with this Pitt team. For long stretches this season, when Zanna was in his late-season slump, there was no one else besides Lamar Patterson to make shots for the team. Now that Zanna appears to be back to what he was early in the season it gives the Panthers an inside option to go along with Patterson. That's important. But as far as shooting goes, it's a weakness for sure after Patterson. The two starting guards -- James Robinson and Cam Wright -- are poor 3-point shooters. I personally think Josh Newkirk should be playing more, getting more minutes at both spots. Bottom line: This team's chances of winning the ACC or making a deep NCAA run ended when Durand Johnson got hurt.

LookingForAReason: If - and I repeat if - the Panthers are able to get by Colorado and they lose to Florida in the next round - do you think it's been a successful year for Pitt basketball all things considered?

Ray Fittipaldo: All things considered, yes. I just mentioned the Durand Johnson injury. That has put a lot of pressure on Patterson to score more. He has risen to the occasion on most nights, but when he hasn't the Panthers have really struggled. When you take into account that Dixon lost an NBA player in Steven Adams and had to start Mike Young as a freshman, yeah, I think that would be a good year.

Doug S: I remember a few years back Pitt had the #1 seed and they showed Bulter at an 8 seed with them. I really felt uncomfortable with that 1/8 matchup for Pitt. You think FLA feels any nerves?

Ray Fittipaldo: Pitt has to get past Colorado first. But I can see where Billy Donovan would have some trepidation in facing Pitt. Dixon is a good coach and the Panthers can make things difficult on opponents, especially those that have not played against them. I think the Gators are the better team, but anything can happen and oftentimes does in the NCAA tournament.

Doug S: Are you a fan of the pod system? I am not. Would be nice to see all west region played out west, etc. I say go back to the old way.

Ray Fittipaldo: I don't feel strongly one way or the other. The only reason I don't like it is I think it gives unfair advantages to teams like UNC, Duke, Wake when those teams get to play in their own backyards in Charlotte or Greensboro. The same goes for Syracuse in Buffalo. I mentioned the matchup with Western Michigan and the Cuse earlier. One reason I'm not all in on Western Michigan is because the game is in Buffalo, about 90 minutes or so from Syracuse's campus. I think Syracuse is ripe for an upset, but maybe having a lot of fans in attendance gives them an edge.

Jon: With what should be much lower pressure to make a deep run in the tourney this year, is there any chance we see the team come out a little looser than in years past? Pitt always seems to let the pressure get to them in March. Any chance we see some of the swagger from Greensboro follow the team to Orlando? Also, what do you anticipate the fan base's reaction toward Dixon to be if Pitt gets edged by Colorado?

Ray Fittipaldo: I think you make a good point about the pressure and the expectations. Lower seeds should have a little bit of an advantage because the pressure will not be on them. I think you'll definitely see that vs. Florida if the Panthers can gets past Colorado. As far as fan reaction to a first-round loss, it would be just another blotch on Dixon's postseason resume, which as we all know, is not very good.

Ryan Shaw: I have a question on Jamie Dixon. I love him and hate him all at the same time, but wouldn't want any other coach for our Pitt Panthers! Doesn't it seem like he's been out-thinking himself alot this year? Calling a timeout for Ennis to shoot the buzzer beater, a timeout to stall Patterson's game winning drive vs Notre Dame, a timeout before Cincinnati had their game winning shot. Why not let the natural emotions of the last few seconds go at full game speed instead of let them setup final plays in the end?

Ray Fittipaldo: Jamie got burned a few times when he called late timeouts this season, but the people should know this was not out of character for him. I think in my decade covering the team I saw him call more timeouts after his team scored than vice versa. Most coaches will call a timeout when they are mad about their defense. Some would call Jamie a micromanager. Perhaps that fits. But he does not have a very talented roster beyond Patterson, and sometimes Zanna. The other side to that story is he might have to micromanage the team to get the most out of them.

LookingForAReason: Thanks Ray. I'm still scarred by the loss to Vandy back in '88. The thing keeps me coming back is that these teams under JD do consistently play so doggone hard.

Ray Fittipaldo: True, some recent Pitt teams were terribly frustrating to watch at times for a variety of reasons, but they almost always played hard.

Ryan Shaw: Will somebody else on Pitt step up to shoot the ball? It seems like our younger players are nervous to shoot the ball with Zanna and Patterson around? We have alot of young guys who can step up, but they just don't know how to pull the trigger in tough game situations.

Ray Fittipaldo: I disagree. I think Robinson and Wright shoot too much sometimes. I know Robinson made some clutch game-winning shots as a freshman last year, but he would not be my first choice to shoot the ball. He's around 30 percent from 3-point range on the season. Wright is even worse from 3 and he can be a liability when he is missing his mid-range shots. But that's pretty much all they have other than Patterson. The aggressive thing to do would be to play Newkirk more for Wright, but I don't see Dixon doing that.

Ray Fittipaldo: OK, thanks for the participating in this special NCAA chat.

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