Pitt 2011 Senior Class: Greatest Ever?

[EDIT:  Updated to reflect the final day of conference games.]

Senior day is always an emotional one.  Every player that passes through this program has left his own impact.  I am always sad to see each one bid farewell.

The home finale in 2009 might have been the most memorable ever.  That class was headed for an NCAA #1 seed, beat #1 UConn for the second time that day, and finished as the overall winningest class (112-31) in Pitt history.  Levance Fields is my favorite Panther of all-time.

As fun as that was, your 2011 senior class will likely be the greatest senior class in Pitt history.  Look at the numbers and tell me I’m wrong.

Big East Gauntlet:

In their four seasons, these seniors have collected a 53-19 conference record in the nation’s hardest conference.  The Panthers are tied with Louisville for first in that four-year period.  Pitt had won no more than 13 games before 2009, and this class might collect 15 twice.

In the 2007-08 season, Pitt finished a mere 7th (10-8) in the Big East after losing two starters to injury, and then won four games in four days to become Big East Tournament champions.  The class then followed that up with 2nd place finishes in 2008-09 (15-3) and 2009-10 (13-5).  Having already clinched at least a share of the 2010-11 regular season title, the finale against Villanova will decide it outright.

They had a winning record against 14 Big East teams, with at least one road win against all but Notre Dame and Louisville.

Conference Total
Pittsburgh 53 -19 110 -28
Syracuse 47 -25 104 -35
Louisville 53 -19 101 -36
WVU 45 -27 100 -40
Villanova 44 -28 98 -39
UConn 44 -28 94 -39
Notre Dame 46 -26 94 -40
Marquette 43 -29 90 -45
Georgetown 42 -30 88 -41

History’s Deepest Conference:

In 2010-11, Pitt has lost three conference games (by a total of 9 points) in a league where 11 teams are predicted to make the NCAA tournament.

In 1985, the Big East set a record by finishing 18-5 in the NCAA tournament.  With a possible 11 entrants this year, that win total could be matched.

Home Court Dominance:

The Pete has become famous for its home court advantage.  These seniors have tallied a 68-4 home record in their career, including a perfect 37-0 against non-conference foes.  Their record hosting ranked teams is 8-3, with an undefeated 6-0 against the AP top-5.

Pitt had at least one win against every opponent, and no more than one loss.

The class also picked up a win at Duquesne’s Palumbo Center in 2008, the final win ever in the Civic Arena in 2010, and the first win ever in the Consol Energy Center in 2011.  They finished 7-0 vs Duquesne and Robert Morris.

Kansas 71 -1 98.6%
Duke 65 -2 97.0%
Pitt 69 -4 94.5%
Memphis 73 -7 91.3%
Gonzaga 51 -5 91.1%
Wisconsin 61 -6 91.0%
MSU 56 -7 88.9%

Non-conference Excellence:

The seniors finished 48-4 in total against non-conference opponents.  They defeated #6 Duke at Madison Square Garden in 2008, won the Legends Classic tournament in Newark in 2009, lost to #3 Texas in the CBE Classic championship game in Kansas City in 2010, then avenged that loss a year later by beating Texas in the 2K Sports Coaches vs Cancer at Madison Square Garden.

Complete Season Success:

During each year, Pitt has tallied at least 25 total wins, 11 non-conference wins, 10 conference wins, and a NCAA first-round win, with no more than 10 losses.

Pitt tied the all-time best season record in 2009 at 31-5.  With 26 wins already this year, it is possible they can beat that mark.

The seniors have already moved into second place for career wins at 110-27.  They are also currently in second place behind the 2004-05 class in winning percentage at 80.3%.

They advanced to Pitt’s first modern Elite 8 in 2009 and are aspiring to make the Final Four for the first time since 1941.

Coaching Mastery:

While much of the credit for the four years of success goes to the players, it would not be possible without Jamie Dixon.  It is easy to forget that Jamie has the highest career Big East winning percentage, and is already in 7th place in career Big East wins.

He already broke the record for most wins in his first eight seasons, and doesn’t look like he is ready to stop.

His team was predicted 9th a year ago, and got them to 2nd and earned a NCAA #3 seed.  With roughly the same squad, they entered this season in the AP top-5 and are poised for the school’s second ever NCAA #1 seed.

Any Doubts?

It wouldn’t be Pittsburgh if we didn’t have doubters.  If anything is better than what this class has already accomplished in four years, it could be what they do this month.

Go ahead and doubt them, it wouldn’t be the first time.

Brad Wanamaker was a walking turnover in his freshman year.
Gary McGhee picked up three fouls in one second in his sophomore year.
Gilbert Brown was labeled a bipolar scorer in his junior year.

But now as seniors?  Go ahead and doubt them one more time.  They’ll get one more opportunity to prove you wrong.

Scoop Jardine vs The Dirty Panthers

Back in the beginning of the season, ESPN The Magazine asked Syracuse douchebag player Scoop Jardine what he thought of each team in the conference.  PantherLair has a summary of the story:

In the college basketball preview issue of ESPN The Magazine, Syracuse guard Scoop Jardine accused Pitt of a nefarious approach to the game.

“They play dirty,” Jardine said in comments that were also published on ESPN.com, “and the refs allow it.”

Naturally, Pitt players disagree.

“A lot of teams may refer to us as a dirty team, but I’d just say that we’re a physical team,” redshirt senior Gilbert Brown said Saturday. “Our practices are predicated on being physical and playing hard-nosed defense. So I wouldn’t say we’re dirty; I think we’re just a physical team.

“Some people don’t like a physical game, but it’s basketball. It’s a man’s game.”

Maybe Scoop is just a wimp, or maybe he has turned into a wimp because his coach is a wimp.  Does any coach in the conference whine more than Jim Boeheim?

In a 2008 game, Pitt trailed Syracuse by 11 points with 3:49 remaining.  The Panthers managed to come back and beat the Orange at the Carrier Dome in a game I like to call “The Meltdown.”  Naturally, Jim Boeheim was in shock and threw a tantrum.

Here’s a clip.

“The Meltdown” was followed by the classic Jamie Dixon quote: “There is no quit in this team.”

That’s because we play “a man’s game.”

Oakland Zoo Turns 10: A (Vegas) Golden Decade

As Pitt prepares to host Seton Hall this weekend, let’s attempt to roll back the clock exactly one decade.  The Pittsburgh Panthers are hosting the hot 15th ranked Seton Hall Pirates at the Fitzgerald Fieldhouse on January 13, 2001.  A few students are excited by new coach Ben Howland.  They decide what the upstart Panthers really need is some student support.  They form the Oakland Zoo.

Pittsburgh Shocks No. 15 Seton Hall, 77-65

Freshman Julius Page steps up for men’s basketball, Panthers move to 10-5.

PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh hadn’t beaten a ranked opponent under second-year coach Ben Howland. Now that they’ve done it once, they’ll get a lot more opportunities to do it again.

Not only was it the first big win for the Howland-Dixon coaching squad, it was the humble beginning of one of the country’s greatest student sections.  In just ten years, the Oakland Zoo has grown from a handful of kids to thousands of fans. The introduction of the Zoo shirt has made Pitt’s unusual “Vegas Gold” hue a recognizable symbol of the University.

The ascension of the basketball team has come hand-in-hand with the rise of the Zoo.  The fans have always supported the team, and the team has always given the fans a reason to cheer.  When Jamie Dixon took over as head coach, the program didn’t miss a beat.  The team continued to make the NCAA tournament, and the expectation for success has been raised even higher.  Likewise, when Matt Cohen and the original Zoo founders graduated, other students were ready to leave their own mark on Pitt’s student section.  Not content to simply cheer anymore, the Zoo has helped lure football recruits, and been an active participant in local charities.

It seems appropriate for both the team and the Zoo, that in the second year of Nike sponsorship, not only has Pitt been outfitted with the “Hyper Elite” uniforms, but the jerseys proudly sport an Oakland Zoo logo.  Jamie and his players seem to always appreciate the support of the fans, and surely Pitt’s gaudy 143-11 record at the Petersen Events Center speaks to the shared success of the team and the Zoo.

Michigan State’s Hyper Elite features a giant Spartan helmet.  UConn’s features a large image of their husky mascot.  Obviously, it shows what the Zoo means to Pitt to be featured similarly.

The new jerseys are supposed to premiere on Big Monday against Syracuse, in what will be one of the most anticipated games ever at the Pete.  The contest could likely be the deciding factor for this year’s conference title.  Pitt has already sold some standing-room only tickets, so a packed and raucous crowd is obvious.

But…

Before we focus on Syracuse and being elite, let’s remember our humble beginnings.  Let’s make sure to beat Seton Hall.

After all, that’s how this whole thing started.

Pitt vs UConn: A Brief History

Pitt vs UConn might not be the Big East’s longest, most storied rivalry, but these two teams have fought an all-out war over the past decade.  This will be the 10th time in 8 seasons that Jamie Dixon has seen a Pitt-UConn game where both teams are ranked.  Pitt has managed to win the last three games in the series, including two over a #1 ranked UConn squad in 2009.

December 27, 2010 #6 Pitt #4 UConn Petersen Events Center
January 13, 2010 #15 Pitt 67 57 #16 UConn XL Center
March 7, 2009 #3 Pitt 70 60 #1 UConn Petersen Events Center
February 16, 2009 #4 Pitt 76 68 #1 UConn XL Center
February 2, 2008 UConn 60 53 #18 Pitt XL Center
January 16, 2007 #6 Pitt 63 54 UConn Petersen Events Center
January 31, 2006 #1 UConn 80 76 #9 Pitt XL Center
February 26, 2005 #17 UConn 73 64 #18 Pitt Petersen Events Center
January 22, 2005 #21 Pitt 76 66 #16 UConn Harry A. Gampel Pavilion
March 13, 2004 #9 UConn 61 58 #6 Pitt Madison Square Garden
February 15, 2004 #4 Pitt 75 68 #5 UConn Petersen Events Center
January 19, 2004 #4 UConn 68 65 #8 Pitt XL Center
March 15, 2003 #5 Pitt 74 56 UConn Madison Square Garden
March 2, 2003 #8 Pitt 71 67 UConn Petersen Events Center
March 9, 2002 #19 UConn 74 65 #7 Pitt Madison Square Garden

Pitt fans should learn to love the CEC

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I’ve read a lot of negative feedback from Pitt fans about the decision to play the City Game and possibly one other non-conference game per year at the Consol. My response to these people: “Get over it.”

A lot of the frequent critics of Pitt basketball love to point out that Pitt isn’t quite up to the level of UNC, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, etc. Well, part of being on that level is playing games away from your cozy campus floor.

The best game of the year so far was Georgetown at Mizzou on a semi-home Kansas City (Sprint Center) court.

Duke is preparing for the National Title rematch against Butler in Newark.

Michigan State is thinking about playing on an aircraft carrier.

That’s what good teams do. They don’t fear change. They embrace it.

Pitt has played only one ranked non-conference opponent at the Pete since it opened. It is pretty obvious that we struggle to draw marquee matchups. If we can do that at the CEC, how is that a bad thing?

Regarding the City Game, I don’t see how there is any argument against the neutral site. It is a game that dates back to the 1930s and has seen good Pitt teams and terrible Pitt teams, as well as good Duquesne teams and the current terrible Duquesne team. That is what a rivalry is. Just like Pitt fans will always detest Penn State for ending their football rivalry, having Pitt refuse to play this as a neutral game would be just as arrogant. If Pitt is better than Duquesne, then we should go to the CEC every year and beat them. That seems like fun to me.

An obvious fact that seems to be getting overlooked in this discussion:
Pitt played 9 non-conference home games last year. Pitt is playing 9 non-conference home games this year. Playing Duquesne downtown did not “sacrifice” a home game. Jamie Dixon stated that he wants to play one other non-conference game per year at the CEC, but that is above and beyond what they need to have at the Pete. If the schedule doesn’t allow for it, I doubt you’ll see one that year.

Of course, the highlight of the Consol opportunity is that Duquesne will host the 2012 NCAA First and Second Round games in Pittsburgh. Assuming Pitt is highly-rated enough at the time, Pitt would have a nice 19,000 fan contest.

Keeping Duquesne and Pittsburgh happy might mean this happens every few years. Wouldn’t that be worth it?

Pitt playing 2012 Preseason NIT

Ray Fittipaldo noted in his PG+ blog today that Jamie Dixon made a comment about playing in the 2012 NIT Season Tip-Off.  Apparently he was asked about Pitt’s plan to play in the Consol Energy Center routinely, and mentioned their exempt tournament outlook:

Dixon said it’s going to be hard to [schedule games at the CEC] because the Panthers need a certain number of home games and like to play in early-season exempt tournaments. It was then that he revealed the preseason N.I.T. for the first time.

This is (sometimes) one of the top exempt tournaments in the country.  It won’t be clear for quite some time who Pitt might play in the tournament, but it usually has a good field, and obviously any Pitt game at Madison Square Garden is good enough for me.

Teams are allowed to play a tournament once in a four-year period.  This means that national power Duke is not eligible, but teams such as Ohio State, North Carolina, Kentucky, etc are in play.

It’s better than the Legends Classic or the CBE, but I was really hoping to have an excuse for a trip to Hawaii 😦

What a week…

I have been to the last four tournaments. I saw a one-and-done loss to Villanova. I saw two straight tourney final losses. I saw a blowout of #2 Villanova. I saw an annihilation from the hands of Georgetown.

Now I have seen a championship.

To see the sheer joy on the face of Ronald Ramon walking off the court will make me graduate with only the happiest of memories from my four years in the Zoo.

If ever there was a group of players that deserved a win in this tournament, it is our team. With the hardships endured this year, this victory can only taste that much sweeter. They didn’t get a bye. They didn’t get credit. They won with three straight upsets.

This is our house.

Enjoy this one, Panther fans. I know you guys like to criticize, but this is one to savor.