Pitt draws No. 8 seed in NCAA West Region, will play Wichita State
Pitt was expecting a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament, so its players had the same reaction when they were announced as the No. 8 seed in the West Region on the CBS “Selection Show.”
Which was no reaction at all.
The Panthers (24-8) sat in stunned silence upon learning that they will play No. 9 Wichita State (26-8), the Missouri Valley Conference runner-up, Thursday in a second-round game in Salt Lake City. Tip-off time will be announced Monday.
“When our name popped up, everybody was in shock,” Pitt fifth-year senior guard Tray Woodall said of watching the show at Pitt's Campus View Room at Petersen Events Center. “We were in shock that we're playing the Shockers.”
Pitt was projected as a fifth or sixth seed by bracketologists after finishing fourth in the Big East regular season, including victories at No. 2 seed Georgetown and at home over No. 4 seed Syracuse. That was evident as the Panthers “oohed” every time a No. 6 or 7 seed was announced in the previous three brackets.
There was an audible gasp, however, when Pitt popped up as the eight seed in the West bracket, the last of the four to be announced.
“We were guessing where we would go,” Pitt redshirt junior swingman Lamar Patterson said. “We didn't think 8, but it's not anything we really cared about. We knew we had to play a good team anyway. It's something you can't control, so you accept it and keep going.”
The Panthers missed the NCAA Tournament last year, snapping a streak of 10 consecutive appearances. They went on to win the College Basketball Invitational.
This year they're ready for a return to the Big Dance.
“Eighth seed, no one is happy with it,” Woodall said, “but we're just happy to be back in the tournament and ready to compete.”
Coach Jamie Dixon didn't dwell on the unexpected low seed or about taking a trip to the Mountain Time Zone. The Big East had a No. 1 seed in Louisville, No. 2 in Georgetown, No. 3 in Marquette, No. 4 in Syracuse and No. 7 in Notre Dame — and all but the Hoyas beat the Panthers this season.
“Going to the NCAA Tournament, everybody knows if it takes you moving up or down a line to motivate you then you've got other issues,” Dixon said. “We're plenty motivated, plenty excited about the opportunity and ready to play.”
The Panthers also dismissed the notion that they could look ahead to a third-round game against West No. 1 seed Gonzaga, the nation's top-ranked team.
“(Gonzaga) is right there (on the bracket), but we are looking forward to Wichita State first,” Pitt redshirt sophoomre guard Cameron Wright said. “We have to look forward to Thursday first because there may not be a Saturday.”
There is a familiarity with Wichita State and coach Gregg Marshall, who took the Shockers to a 29-win season and the NIT title in 2011 and an NCAA berth last year.
The Panthers beat Wichita State, 68-55, in the CBE Classic Nov. 23, 2009, in Kansas City, Mo.
Woodall, then a redshirt freshman, had 19 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals as well as six turnovers.
“I did (have a good game), but I had a lot of turnovers, too,” Woodall said, with a laugh. “Almost a quadruple-double if you're including turnovers.”
Wichita State is led by 6-foot-8 junior forward Cleanthony Early, who averages 13.6 points and 5.1 rebounds, and 6-8 senior forward Carl Hall (12.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg). Like Pitt, the Shockers have 10 players who average 10 minutes or more.
Wichita State and Pitt had common opponents in Howard, DePaul and Detroit, and both schools beat all three teams. The Shockers also beat fifth-seeded Virginia Commonwealth in November and MVC champion Creighton, a No. 7 seed, in January. But they lost three of their final four, with two to Creighton, including the MVC final.
Dixon complimented Wichita State as a good team from a good conference — while wearing the smile of somone who has been slighted.
“That's how it worked out,” Dixon said. “We can't do anything about that. What we can do is play well on Thursday and do the best we can against Wichita State.”