Reactions from Pittsburgh Basketball’s surprise bid to the NCAA Tournament

It’s been years since Pittsburgh Basketball was in the NCAA Tournament after having been a mainstay for over a decade in the Jamie Dixon and Ben Howland eras. But after Coach Dixon left for TCU after the 2015-16 season, the Panthers had struggled to even be competitive in the ACC.

This year, it looked as if things were going to be the same, as the team had lost projected starters, John Hugley and Dior Johnson. But credit goes to eventual ACC Coach of the Year Jeff Capel, as the offseason transfer pickups of Blake Hinson, Nelly Cummings, Greg Elliott, and Federiko Federiko proved to be valuable this past season.

Pittsburgh managed to overcome preseason predictions of being near the bottom of the conference and was in the top tier of the ACC all season. They had a close call in the past two weeks, going 1-3 that included a bad loss at Notre Dame and a blowout defeat to Duke that messed up its metrics.

The good news is that the Selection Committee still gave them the nod, giving the program its first NCAA Tournament appearance in seven years. They’ll be in the play-in game, taking on the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Tuesday.

It’s a proud moment for the program, having overcome a lot in recent years. With so many seniors on the roster, it’s great for them to be rewarded for their hard work. Having entered the final week of the regular season with a chance to win the ACC regular-season title, it would’ve been heartbreaking for it to end in the NIT.

Of course, when you’re one of the last teams in the Big Dance, you’re going to have your detractors. They got in over Rutgers, a team that had arguably better wins, as well as Clemson, a team that had beaten Pittsburgh Basketball at its place.

But it doesn’t matter, as Pittsburgh’s season is still on and has a chance to make some major noise. It won’t be easy against the Bulldogs, which has a star big man to deal with in Tolu Smith. The Panthers have shown they can overcome other things, they can very well find a way to handle him as well.