Pitt seeded 10th in East region of NCAA tournament, will play Wisconsin
March 13, 2016 10:42 PM
This is the 11th time in 13 years under Jamie Dixon that the Panthers have earned a spot in the NCAA tournament. Only once have they beaten a higher seeded team.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The NCAA selection show on CBS was expanded to two hours, and that meant many teams on the bubble, such as Pitt, might have had to wait for a long time to find out if they were going to get into the field of 68.
But the Panthers — and many other teams — found out their fate about 40 minutes earlier than they were supposed to Sunday because somebody leaked the bracket on Twitter early in the show and that took away a lot of the suspense.
“The worst-kept secret in sports was the bracket, I guess,” coach Jamie Dixon joked after it was revealed that his Panthers had earned a spot in the tournament.
“We were ready for this two-hour walk-through, but we found out about it early, so it was a very bizarre setting. We were wondering what we were going to do for that entire time [sitting and waiting to see the bracket] but then all of the sudden we knew rather quickly. I was wondering how everyone was going to stay tuned to the TV for all that time.”
Dixon then joked that it was “unbelievable” that the bracket leaked and said “it never happened under Scott’s watch” as he gave a shout-out to his boss, Pitt athletic director Scott Barnes, who was in the interview room and served as the tournament chair a year ago.
And while there were mixed messages about who actually saw the leaked bracket first, several of the players revealed that it was senior Sterling Smith who first delivered the good news and it quickly spread like wildfire through the room where the team gathered to watch the show.
The good news, of course, was this — Pitt (21-11) is the No. 10 seed in the East Region and will play No. 7-seeded Wisconsin (20-12) in a first-round game at 6:50 p.m. Friday in St. Louis. The game will be broadcast on TNT.
If the Panthers win, they will advance to the second round and play against the winner of No. 2 Xavier (27-5) and No. 15 Weber State (26-8).
Dixon, who has taken the Panthers to the NCAA tournament 11 of his 13 seasons, said he was happy for the team but especially the three graduate transfers — Smith, Rafael Maia and Alonzo Nelson-Ododa — who came to Pitt with the hope of getting a chance to play in the NCAA tournament for the first time.
“I’m excited for all of our guys,” Dixon said. “But I feel really good for the three graduate transfers because they came to Pitt because they wanted to play in the NCAA tournament and we told them when we recruited them that was what we were going to do.
“So I feel really happy for those guys, they are three kids who have given us a lot. They have come here and worked hard, they have given us everything we needed and they are excited to be a part of it.”
Maia, who played his first three years at Brown, said that getting to play in the NCAA tournament will be a basketball dream come true and it has been a long time coming.
He said he has watched the Selection Sunday show the past few years wondering what it would be like to be on one of the teams who is waiting to hear their name called and now he knows — though some of the suspense was taken away by the leaked bracket.
“One of the biggest, if not the biggest motivator for me when I was looking for a school to transfer to was finding a school who had a really good chance to make the NCAA tournament,” Maia said. “To be here right now and having made it, I am just really excited and I can’t wait to go out to St. Louis and start playing games.
“This is the first time I was a part of this and sitting there watching all the teams the years before, I always just wanted to be in this position right now.”
The Panthers have a total of seven players who will play in their first NCAA tournament this week as junior Sheldon Jeter, freshman Damon Wilson, sophomore Ryan Luther and redshirt freshman Cameron Johnson have never experienced it, either.
Jeter transferred after his freshman year at Vanderbilt, but the Panthers missed the NCAA tournament and so he has had to wait an extra year to get this experience.
He, like Maia, said it is a dream come true and admits he was nervous all day Sunday — and even after the leaked bracket came out — because he has waited so long for this moment.
And he joked that while the wait was long enough for him given his long journey from Beaver Falls to Pitt, the fact that the selection show was two hours long made it that much worse.
“Words can’t express how excited I am, to be honest,” Jeter said. “My only complaint about the show is that there were too many commercial breaks.”
As Dixon said, Pitt — which, as a No. 10 seed, was clearly safely in the field — has been consistently an NCAA tournament team and that has been one of the program’s top selling points to recruits and players looking to transfer.
But getting into the tournament is one thing, advancing in it is another, and the Panthers haven’t been very good in that department in recent years. Pitt hasn’t been to the second weekend of the tournament since 2009 when Villanova ousted the Panthers in the Elite Eight.
“When you do things time and time again, you want to do more,” Dixon said. “[Pitt’s NCAA failures] have been well addressed and I’m fine with it. Getting there is a challenge, a big challenge. It is hard to do. And now we need to go play well and I believe this is our time to do that.”
Paul Zeise: email@example.com and Twitter @paulzeise.
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