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Pitt fans: Final Four or bust

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By Adam Brandolph
Thursday, March 19, 2009

It's Final Four or bust.

For many Pitt fans, nothing less will be acceptable after years of early exits from the NCAA tournament.

"This is the best team in at least the last 10 years, so if we don't win it all, it'll be a little upsetting," said David Niccen, 27, of the South Side. "The team is a No. 1 seed, so they're expected to at least be in the Final Four. A loss before then would just be a repeat of previous years."

The tournament begins today. Pitt -- a No. 1 seed for the first time -- opens play against East Tennessee State at 2:55 p.m. tomorrow in Dayton. If they win, the Panthers will play Sunday against the winner of the Oklahoma State-Tennessee game.

Pitt has made the NCAA tournament each of the past seven years but fallen short of expectations each year.

The Panthers were a No. 2 seed in 2003 and a No. 3 seed in '02, '04 and '07. Each time, they lost in the Sweet 16 in the 65-team, single-elimination tournament.

No Pitt team has gotten past the Elite Eight since 1941, when the Panthers lost the championship game to Wisconsin. Of course, the tournament consisted of only eight teams back then.

Mike Handel, 33, of Squirrel Hill acknowledged Pitt's tendency to choke in the Big Dance but tried looking on the bright side.

"Maybe because they lost so early in the Big East tournament they'll be fresh and focused," he said.

Since 2001, the Panthers have played in the Big East championship game seven times. They won the tournament twice. This year the Panthers lost in the quarterfinals to West Virginia.

"It's been one heartbreak after another (in the NCAA tournament)," said Pitt junior Danny Singh, 20. "No matter how good they seem to be playing or how good of a matchup they get, they lose."

Getting to the Elite Eight or the Final Four should keep the Panthers from being labeled a failure, said Matt Cohen, 26, who founded the Oakland Zoo fan section in 2001.

"If we lost in the Elite Eight to Villanova or Duke, I'd be disappointed, but at least it would be father than we've been," said Cohen, who's now a teacher in the Pottstown School District outside Philadelphia.

The team has been too good this season -- it defeated a top-ranked UConn team twice and was ranked No. 1 twice -- to settle for anything less, said Pat Thompson, commissioner of the South Hills Association of Tailgaters, a group of die-hard Pitt fans.

"With the amount of senior leadership, talent wise and where they're ranked, they definitely need to get past the Sweet 16," he said. "The Elite Eight would still be upsetting, but you could swallow that. But I'd definitely prefer the Final Four."

Additional Information:

Early exits

The Pitt men's basketball team has had its share of disappointing performances in the NCAA tournament. Here's a look at how some notable seasons ended prematurely, at least in the eyes of many Pitt fans.

&bull 2008 • Lost to Michigan State in the second round

&bull 2007 • Lost to UCLA in the Sweet 16

&bull 2006 • Lost to Bradley in the second round

&bull 2005 • Lost to Pacific in the first round

&bull 2004 • Lost to Oklahoma State in the Sweet 16

&bull 2003 • Lost to Marquette in the Sweet 16

&bull 2002 • Lost to Kent State in the Sweet 16

&bull 1989 • Lost to Ball State in the first round

&bull 1988 • lost to Vanderbilt in the second round

Source: University of Pittsburgh

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