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Pitt still isn't it in the tournament (and Dixon, too)

I've always had this theory that Pitt athletics will break your heart.

This year's basketball team lived up to that saying once again.

By all accounts, the Panthers overachieved this season. They reached the top 10 in the polls at one point, they finished second in the Big East and they received a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament.

All great accomplishments.

Yet it means nothing when you lose in the second round of the NCAA tournament against a team your supposed to beat.

But that's Pitt basketball. It seems every season they fall about one round short of what they're supposed to do.

Here's their recent history:
  • 2009: 3-1: They lost to Villanova in the regional final.
  • 2008: 1-1. They lost to Michigan State in the second round.
  • 2006: 1-1. They lost to Bradley in the second round.
  • 2005: 0-1. They lost to Pacific in the first round.
The Villanova loss last season was a tough one to take. But as a No. 1 seed, Pitt was a better team than Villanova and should have earned a Final Four berth.

Ah ... woulda, coulda, shoulda.

That applies to the losses in 2008, 2006 and 2005. All winnable games. Only the loss to UCLA in 2007 was acceptable. And in five of the past six tournaments Pitt underachieved.

It gets hard to accept that record when you see teams practically every season overachieving in the tournament.

Why can't Pitt?

Being built to win in the Big East in January instead of winning in mid-March might have something to do with it.

Jamie Dixon's teams are schooled on defense first. It's very admirable.

That's great when you face Rutgers and there's three inches of snow on the ground.

When you have a tournament game and need to find some offense, well, that's where Pitt comes up short.

I picked Xavier to beat Pitt this season. I didn't want to be right. Pitt barely beat Xavier last year when it had two future NBA players on its roster. This season it was an easy choice.

This season's Pitt team lacked an offensive threat, and it usually has lacked that threat through the years. What usually happens, and happened Sunday, is when Pitt needed a basket, it usually missed because of a rushed shot or had a turnover.

Does that mean Dixon needs to go?

Well it depends upon what you want from your college basketball team.

If tournament appearances are your criteria, he's your guy. If you want someone who gets more out of his players, he's also your guy.

If you want your coach to routinely beat lower seeds in the NCAA tournament, Dixon hasn't met that standard.

He's not on thin ice. He's not in danger of losing his job. But let's not overlook the shortcomings when it  matters the most. We shouldn't bestow the great coach label upon him any time soon.

A great coach would know how to win those tournament games he seems to lose.


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