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Ten soul-crushing defeats from the Pitt Panthers

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This article is written by J.O. of View from the Zoo blog fame, who is serving as a guest contributor. You can also catch him on Twitter @ViewfromtheZoo

Since Pitt recently lost by 55 points to Louisville and negativity is running rampant through the program I felt compelled to look back on all the other times when our dreams were crushed.

10. Pitt wins 2012 CBI Championship

I started off a list of soul-crushing losses with a win? This article doesn’t even make sense. Yes #CBIncredible was a lot of fun, and we Pitt fans know how to milk something, but being in the CBI after a decade of NCAA bids just felt wrong. Take a look at the last five CBI Finals and tell me which one of these things is not like the other:

2016: Nevada over Morehead State

2015: Loyola (CHI) over UL Monroe

2014: Siena over Fresno State

2013: Santa Clara over George Mason

2012: Pitt over Washington State

Look at Gibbs in this photo, you can actually pinpoint the exact moment that his soul leaves his body.

There were a few positives from the tournament, probably the most important being Patterson’s improved play, but that season should’ve mercifully ended at 17-16 with a loss to Georgetown in the Big East. I doubt recruits were glued to the TV watching the best of three championship series. Also, winning a college basketball postseason tournament after losing the championship game only because it is a ridiculous best of three format is one of the most Pitt things ever.

9. Duquesne 64, Pitt 55 (2016)

There are a few things that Pitt students can expect when they enroll here.

1. Market Central food will make you sick

2. The 59U will be an unreliable bus

3. Pitt will beat the snot out of Duquesne in basketball

Not this year, though, as Duquesne beat Pitt for the first time since 2000. Actually, looking back on it the 2000 game seems pretty depressing as well. Duquesne won 71-70 on a loose ball put-back with 2.2 seconds left. The Dukes responded by sending out six players on the final play. Freshman Julius Page blew the free throw, and then Ricardo Greer threw the inbounds pass over the head of center Isaac Hawkins. This is probably not the last time I mention failed inbounds passes or missed free throws on this list. Anyway, back to 2016. Without Artis Pitt was embarrassing and as Anson mentioned in the recap, it seemed like they didn’t care.

8. Syracuse 58, Pitt 56 (2014) - The Tyler Ennis Game

Pitt was 9-0 against Top 5 teams at the Pete. Syracuse was undefeated and ranked number one, but Pitt has never been afraid of the Zone and Dixon has owned Boeheim (15-6 all-time). Anyway, Pitt led 54-48 with under two minutes remaining before two CJ Fair buckets (one three) and a pair of Ennis free throws gave the Orange a point lead. Zanna made two free throws to give them the lead back with a few seconds left and Syracuse called timeout. My girlfriend at the time (now wife) looks over to me sweating bullets and says, "relax, they won." Famous last words. Ennis hits a shot from the OC lot and Syracuse escaped with a win.

7. DeJuan Blair declares for NBA Draft

Let me start off by saying that I completely understand why Blair left early. His knees had a shelf-life and he needed to make the most of what would most likely be a short NBA career. But it doesn’t stop Pitt fans from wondering how the 2009 and 2010 seasons would’ve been different with Blair at center. For the 2009 season you’re essentially trading Chase Adams for an All-American center. My guess is they don’t lose to Xavier in the second round.

Also, I think having Blair around for another year or two would have done wonders for Dante Taylor’s development. With Blair and McGhee at Center, Taylor could’ve stayed at the four and been more comfortable as he transitioned to the college game. The 2010 season (easily Dixon’s best coaching job) is a little bit harder to figure out. How does Blair’s presence as the probable number one option affect the development of Gibbs and Wanamaker? I always felt Gibbs despite the lofty scoring numbers he put up was best suited as a secondary option (similar to the role he played as a freshman). Wanamaker probably averages a few fewer points and a few more assists, but his game would be largely unaffected. Pitt was very good that year and they’re probably even better with Blair…or I’m completely wrong and it’s basically the Aaron Gray led 2006 team with fewer missed layups.

6. Rutgers 62, Pitt 39 (2012)

Pitt’s first half performance against Louisville resulted in the third-worst shooting performance (4-25) in a half in program history. I’m not sure if this game was the worst or second-worst but they shot 4-32 in the first half of this one. To put into perspective how much worse the Rutgers game compares to the one that just happened. Louisville is a top 15 team with a Hall of Fame Coach who might be the best defensive mind ever. That Rutgers team won 14 games all season and was coached by noted abuser and crazy person Mike Rice. Just look at this dismal box score. The best shooting performance of the night was Nasir Robinson and he was 3-9!

5. UConn 70, Pitt 69 (1998)

The 1998 season was such a strange season. Pitt started out 6-0 with wins over James Posey and #13 Xavier and defending champ #4 Kentucky (with a very un-Kentucky like four future NBA first rounders) in the Puerto Rican Shootout before getting annihilated by Steve Francis and Maryland in the championship. After the tournament, Pitt was ranked #20 in the polls and I, being 9 years old and basketball-obsessed, cut out the newspaper clipping of the rankings (because hey, it might not happen again!). A 3-5 stretch (with wins over powerhouses Prairie View A&M and Howard) set up a matchup with #1 UConn at the Field House. Pitt led by 4 in the closing seconds. UConn hit a three, and then this happened.

Khalid El-Amin hit the game-winner, jumped on the scorer’s table and words and garbage were exchanged between player and opposing fans (to put it lightly). Pitt never recovered and Willard resigned at the end of the year. Pitt hired some coach named Ben Howland.

What would’ve happened if Pitt won?

Despite the many arrests and legal issues of the team during this time, it is possible that a win over UConn may have inspired Pitt to perform slightly better the rest of the year. Willard coaches a couple more years amidst more and more dysfunction, and Ben Howland leaves Northern Arizona to rebuild some other program. Pitt continues in mediocrity throughout the early 2000s. When attempting to recruit neighbor DeJuan Blair, Blair laughs out loud, signs with Tennessee and he and Chris Lofton lead the Volunteers to the 2008 NCAA Championship. Umm, thanks Khalid, I guess?

4. Kent State 78, Pitt 73 OT (2002 NCAA South Regional Semi-Finals)

As tempting as it was to make this entire list ten NCAA tournament losses, I tried to focus on those that I felt were wasted opportunities in addition to crushing defeats. Despite a lot of failure in the tournament, there have been many times were Pitt was just plain out-matched and had no chance. Pitt had no business winning these games:

2007 against Howland

2004 against Oklahoma State with three NBA players

2003 against D-Wade (Though it was a mild upset at the time, in hindsight it was incredible that Pitt actually kept him in check for half of that game)

However, Pitt should absolutely have beaten Kent State. They had Gates and a bunch of guards. None of their top 5 scorers were over 6’4", and yet the Golden Flashes led for most of the game. Pitt grabbed a couple leads in the second half and had a chance to win it at the end of regulation but Page’s three was just short. Pitt led by 1 with a minute left but Kent State closed with an 8-2 run and Pitt went home. Even though the 2003 team was better (basically the exact same team minus bit player Chad Johnson), 2002 was their best chance. Earlier that night Indiana beat #1 Duke because Jay Williams couldn’t complete a miracle 4 point play to force OT. I’m fairly certain Pitt would’ve beaten an Indiana team whose second best player was Tom Coverdale, and I base this off the fact that Pitt annihilated Indiana in next year’s tournament (minus Jared Jeffries but still).

3. Vanderbilt 80, Pitt 74 OT (1988 NCAA 2nd Round)

In 1986 the NCAA introduced the three point line. It wouldn’t take long for it to crush Pitt’s hopes and dreams. After losing to 6 seed Oklahoma in the second round, the 1987 team was going to take the program to new heights. They returned the nation’s leading rebounder and second team All-American in Jerome Lane, fellow 1st team All Big East and Pitt’s all-time leading scorer Charles Smith, and several other big-time contributors like Demetrius Gore, Rod Brookin and Mike Goodson. As if that wasn’t enough they added the nation’s number one recruiting class (I don’t know that for certain but it seems likely) featuring two McDonald’s All Americans (Brian Shorter and Bobby Martin) as well as Jason Matthews, Darelle Porter and some guy named Sean Miller.

Sports Illustrated declared that Pittsburgh was now officially a basketball town, and swingman Gore wrote a rap about the team called "Pitt on the Rise," which frankly should’ve won the Grammy for Best Rap Performance had that been a thing in 1988 (it became a category a year later).

"Gettin' all the boards like he is insane

Is that board-crashin' brother Je-Rome Lane"

Fire.

Anyway, in the summer of ’87 Pitt had a serious shot at being pre-season number one (that honor eventually went to Syracuse), but like most Pitt things, it would begin unraveling quickly. Shorter didn’t do well enough on his SATs so he would be ineligible the first year (he led Pitt in scoring the three years after). Returning assist leader Mike Goodson would also be academically ineligible (though he had other things on his mind namely his son, future NFL running back Mike Goodson Jr. who was born in May). As if those two losses weren’t enough, Pitt lost Brookin (averaging 12 ppg through the first 8 games) to academics as well.

Down three of their best six players by December, Pitt still managed to win its first regular season Big East Title with a win in the Carrier Dome in the final game of the regular season. Smith (Big East POY) and Lane were named All-Americans. It would be good enough for the #2 seed in an absolutely loaded Midwest Region. Seriously look at this bracket.

1. Purdue - led by Hall of Fame coach Gene Keady

2. Pitt

3. NC State - led by the legendary Jim Valvano

4. Kansas State - coached by current Sooners coach Lon Kruger and featuring All American and future NBA HOF’er Mitch Richmond

6. Kansas - led by National Player of the Year Danny Manning with HOF coach Larry Brown behind the bench

7. Vanderbilt - with All American center and future Michael Jordan punching bag, Will Perdue

Despite all this, the bracket immediately opened up for Pitt. NC State was upset by 14 seed Murray State in the first round. After defeating Eastern Michigan, Pitt would face Vanderbilt in round 2. Despite a 42-24 rebounding edge (Lane almost out-rebounded them himself with 20) and hitting their free throws (16-19), Pitt only led 67-63 with 12 seconds left, and you know how this one ends. Barry Goheen hits a three, Smith hits two free throws (Perdue fouled out on this play), Goheen hits another three at the buzzer to force OT and Pitt never recovers. Ironically those two shots were Goheen’s only two three-pointers in the game.

It was very tempting to rank this loss even higher given how much talent Pitt had and how the bracket was theirs for the taking (#1 Purdue fell in the sweet 16 to KSU in the top half of the bracket) but there are two reasons:

1. I was still one year away from being born. I asked my Dad (a season ticket-holder for most of the 80s) for some additional insight. "It sucked." Thanks, Dad.

2. I am fairly certain that Danny Manning would’ve manhandled Pitt in the next game. He put up 38 against Vanderbilt (Goheen shot 1-7 in that game because of course he did). Pitt definitely had the size to give Danny and the Miracles a much better game, but team of destiny and all that. If they somehow got past Kansas, who knows?

2. Butler 71, Pitt 70 (2011 NCAA 2nd Round - I won’t acknowledge it being called the 3rd round back then)

I don’t think that game killed the program, but that’s a difficult loss to come back from. It’s 2017 and we’re still waiting.

1. Villanova 78, Pitt 76 (2009 NCAA East Regional Final)

Whatever.