No one would argue that Pitt's basketball team had a rough time of things in 2011-12. Not only did the team miss the NCAAs, but they were bypassed by the NIT. After landing in the CBI, they won the title, but ... well, few would consider that a true success story.
This season had the look of a potentially rebuilding one. Pitt was starting not only one, but two true freshmen. In addition, the remaining pieces weren't all that appealing on paper. Tray Woodall, Lamar Patterson, and Talib Zanna were capable players, but few would argue that any of the three were a star. But fortunately for fans, Dixon's not only taken the lineup and formed it a bit, but he's turned them into a legitimate NCAA Tournament threat.
That's not to suggest that Pitt will waltz to the Elite 8, Sweet 16, or even out of the first round. But what it does mean is that assuming the Panthers get into the Big Dance, they could be a bit dangerous. Pitt has quality wins over Syracuse, Georgetown, and UConn. Even the team's losses aren't all that bad as they had close defeats to Cincinnati, Marquette, and Louisville. Rutgers isn't a great team, but a five-point loss at the RAC is hardly that embarrassing.
Even if the Panthers win a first-round game and face a top seed in the second round, they should give them a lot of trouble.
So what could derail Pitt's chances? Other than injuries, which can strike at any time, the biggest factor I see is their youth. Starting two freshmen in the NCAAs scares me a bit, despite the fact that James Robinson and Steven Adams are playing well. The other thing to keep in mind is that the program missed the NCAAs last year, so guys like Cam Wright and Durand Johnson don't have any experience there, either.
The other point of concern is the free throw line. I don't harp on free throws as much as most people do, because I think Pitt can generally overcome it. But in the NCAAs where you can have so many close games, it's something that could easily knock them out early.
To a degree, just getting back to the NCAAs is a big step. But winning a few games would be even better. Regardless of how Pitt does, though, Jamie Dixon has the team back on track and has the team doing a bit better than most expected.
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