Posted 02/01/2012 at 07:21 PM
It was so strange, so unusual, so unexpected and so… downright shocking!. It would be the sudden demise of the Pittsburgh Panthers, who lost their first seven Big East games and appeared destined to miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001.
They lost at DePaul, at home to Rutgers (by 23!) and by double digits at home to Louisville. Jamie Dixon’s squad only scored 39 points in the embarrassing defeat against the Scarlet Knights and got run out of the Joyce Center against Notre Dame.
All seemed lost, including an eight-year run of NCAA Tourney appearances on Dixon’s watch.
But with the return of junior point guard Tray Woodall, who missed 11 games with a groin injury, the Panthers have won three in a row. They went 5-6 without Woodall, which equated to a 9-2 ledger with the starting PG in the lineup.
We know how the Selection Committee has taken important injuries into consideration in the past, so a strong finish by Pitt could have it in the conversation. The Panthers beat Georgetown by 12 this past Saturday with Woodall dishing out 10 assists. Then they followed that up with an impressive win at West Virginia thanks to Woodall’s 24 points.
If Pitt can win six of its last eight Big East games, it would get to the 20-win mark and have a 9-9 record in league play. According to my crystal ball, the Panthers will be favored in five of their remaining eight games, including four home contests and road tilt at South Florida. The three other games are at Seton Hall, at Louisville and at UConn.
In other words, the 2011-2012 Panthers still have life. They return to the court Sunday to host Villanova.