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Shocking (or not): Numb from another early NCAA Tournament exit for Pitt

Harry How

I could have been a good little blogger. Bloggers, you see, are supposed to pay attention and over-analyze. To care, really.

But instead, when I had the chance to sit through my Pitt-Wichita State game on DVR, I passed it up and deleted it. I did manage to read through the Open Gamethread comments and from the sound of it, I'm better off for not having watched.

Here's the thing - as soon as the brackets were announced, we knew this was a possibility. Shame, too. As up and down Pitt is, I would have loved to see them take on a No. 1 seed. Would have been nice to be the hunter for once instead of the hunted.

So now that you know I didn't watch the game, take my comments with a grain of salt - you've been forewarned.

Lots went wrong for Pitt in this one. The irony that we've shown so much angst over Pitt's two starting freshmen wasn't lost on me as it was the upperclassmen struggled terribly. Those freshmen, Steven Adams and James Robinson, both exceeded their scoring averages on the year and had a total of 20 points. Robinson didn't shoot well, but then again, what's new? At least they did what they could. There was a lot of talk about Adams being the key to Pitt' success, but as I said before, I thought Tray Woodall really could have been the key.

But the loss was more than just Woodall, who had a bad game. The junior and senior starters have no real excuse and did the equivalent of walking out to center court, taking a dump, and then leaving. We've seen Talib Zanna struggle. Same for Woodall. And Lamar Patterson. But I'm hard pressed to ever remember a time all this year when all three laid as big an egg at once and did the equivalent of Bret Hart jobbing to Dino Bravo. You've got to give it to this team - at least they're always willing to entertain us by finding new ways to lose.

I don't need to tell you, I'm sure, but Pitt isn't going to beat anybody when all three of those guys go 3-23 from the field. The loss will sit poorly with them and it should. None of them did anything of consequence to keep Pitt in the game. They just didn't come out to play and couldn't make a shot.

One thing to keep in mind is that while it's fair to say the team didn't play well, it's not fair to question the heart of these guys. If you need any further evidence that this means a ton to them, I'd encourage you to check out the post-game video of Tray losing it. Sometimes the shots just don't fall and what can you really do about it?

Off the court, the big factor, obviously, is Jamie Dixon. Dixon is surely still safe at Pitt - not even a question. But all it takes is a casual look around this blog and Twitter to tell you that the fan base is losing confidence in him. Losing this game isn't the end of the world, but there's absolutely no way that the Panthers should lay down and get run out of the gym by a team that shot under 40% from the field. Pitt didn't show up and part of that is on Dixon to figure out why.

There's also the USC factor for Dixon, of course. Again, don't misinterpret this - the Pitt administration surely doesn't want Dixon gone. But will they do as much as they could to keep him in the past? Do they pay him a raise even though he's necessarily due one? I guess so, but ...

Look, for the most part I'm happy with Dixon. And I don't think Pitt would be better off without him. There's often talk of booting him for the next big thing (i.e. Sean Miller, Shaka Smart, Brad Stevens, etc.), but there's absolutely no guarantee that those guys (or anyone else that might be available, for that matter) are able to take Pitt to the next level. And as much as we love the thought of Miller playing hero and coming back to save us, he's never made a Final Four, either. And as we're seeing with the mess that is happening in Syracuse, running a clean program is something that shouldn't be undervalued. Plus, just how much can we blame Dixon for the upperclassmen shooting 3-23, anyway? Some days the shots just don't fall and there's nothing a coach can do about any of that when he doesn't have a bench full of scorers.

Another point is that a lot of people will argue that getting to the NCAAs isn't as hard as it used to be and that Pitt's trips to the Big Dance shouldn't be valued as much. But for the major programs, it's actually harder to make the tournament now. Mid majors are stealing more and more bids and a lot of good teams in major conferences get squeezed out. For Pitt to have made it every year except one under Dixon's reign is nothing short of incredible when you consider the previous depths of the program. Scream all you want for a new coach, but it doesn't always guarantee success (see Todd Graham).

That said, Dixon clearly didn't have the team ready and we're beyond the point where it's fair to ask questions about why the postseason struggles are so numerous. Losing is fine, but losing with such regularity as a higher seed is not. And getting blown out in the first round simply isn't acceptable. At some point Dixon needs to figure out just what it is he's doing wrong. He doesn't personally miss all those shots from the field, but he's the one who assembles the talent - and in case you didn't notice, this year's team didn't have nearly enough of it.

It's back to the drawing board for Pitt. Only problem is, we've been saying that for some time now.

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