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Pitt gets No. 9 seed in South, will play Colorado in tournament opener

| Sunday, March 16, 2014, 6:12 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt coach Jame Dixon speaks to the media after learning the Panthers will face Colorado in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, March 16, 2014, at Petersen Events Center.

Before Lamar Patterson could make his way to his seat to watch the CBS Selection Sunday show, Pitt's NCAA Tournament draw was announced.

The Panthers (25-9) received a No. 9 seed and will play No. 8 Colorado (23-11) of the Pac-12 in the second round of the South Region at 1:40 p.m. Thursday at Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.

“I didn't even see it,” said Patterson, Pitt's fifth-year senior swingman. “It happened so fast. I wasn't even sitting down. Next thing I know, they said we were playing Colorado. I was like, ‘Oh.' Usually, we're sitting in the chairs and all of that, but this year it happened super fast.”

It is Pitt's 12th NCAA Tourney invite in 13 seasons. The Panthers were a No. 8 seed last year before losing in the second round to Wichita State, which knocked off top-seeded Gonzaga and reached the Final Four. Pitt's last NCAA win was against UNC-Asheville in 2011.

“I think we're all happy with where we're at,” Pitt sophomore point guard James Robinson said. “We're fortunate to be playing in the tournament, and we want to make some noise.”

The last time the Panthers were a No. 9 seed, in 2005, they lost their first game to Pacific, 79-71, in Albuquerque, N.M.

So, even though a potential matchup with top-ranked and No. 1 overall seed Florida looms for the winner, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said he isn't looking beyond the Panthers' first game.

“We're focusing on Colorado,” Dixon said. “They're the 8 and we're the 9, so we're the underdog going in and we've got to go out and play good basketball. We've been playing our best basketball of the year to this point.”

Colorado earned its third consecutive NCAA Tournament invite for the first time in school history. Prior to the arrival of fourth-year coach Tad Boyle, the Buffaloes had made back-to-back NCAA appearances only twice, in 1954-55 and '62-63.

“He's really done a good job,” Dixon said of Boyle.

Colorado scored victories over then-No. 6 Kansas (75-72) on Dec. 7 and then-No. 10 Oregon (100-91) on Jan. 5 before losing its star, Spencer Dinwiddie, to a season-ending torn ACL late in the first half Jan. 12 at Washington. Dinwiddie, a 6-foot-6 junior point guard who is an NBA prospect, was averaging 14.7 points.

The Buffaloes lost three of their next four but recovered to go 9-8 down the stretch, winning four straight before losing to Arizona in the Pac-12 semifinals.

“I watched them play a little bit before Dinwiddie got hurt and after he got hurt,” Robinson said. “They still have a lot of playmakers on the team.”

Josh Scott, a 6-10 sophomore forward who was named to the 10-man All-Pac-12 first team, leads Colorado in scoring (14.1) and rebounds(8.5). Junior guard Askia Booker averages 14 points and 3.4 assists, and 6-7 sophomore forward Xavier Johnson averages 12 points.

Pitt and Colorado share only one common opponent, Stanford. Pitt beat the Cardinal, 88-67, on Nov. 26 at the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, N.Y. Colorado won 59-56 on March 5 in Palo Alto, Calif.

“(Pitt is) a physical team,” Colorado redshirt freshman forward Wesley Gordon told the Denver Post. “But we've been playing physical teams in the Pac-12. That has gotten us ready to play a team like Pittsburgh.”

If Pitt beats Colorado, it will likely play Florida (32-2), which faces the winner of Tuesday's first-round game between Albany and Mount St. Mary's.

A No. 1 seed has never lost its first game in the NCAAs.

“That's their home base. I know they're probably going to have a lot of crowd, and that's to their advantage,” Pitt fifth-year senior center Talib Zanna said. “But we can't really worry about that. We have to make sure we win every game and advance in the tournament.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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