by Chris Dokish
Pitt did show up to play. That was not always the case in past tournament losses. But they played a team that was their equal and the result of the game showed just how equal the two teams are. Don't be fooled by which conference each team is in or in the seeds. Butler returned most of the team that went to the championship game last year. In fact, if Gordon Hayward did not leave early for the NBA they were considered by many to project as a top five preseason team.
But the truth is, Jamie Dixon is going to get a lot of criticism for losing this game. If it were just for this game, he probably shouldn't. Butler is an excellent team, Pitt played well, and either team could have won. Losses like this happen to the best of programs. But it's hard to keep making excuses for Dixon when it happens year after year. Eventually you just have to get past a certain point, especially in a season when you are a No. 1 seed.
Butler is a perfect example of a team that makes no excuses, and just goes out and wins when their season is on the line. That's not to suggest that Dixon will make excuses. He's too classy for that. But you have to feel for such a great guy and at the end of the game you could visibly see the pain in his face. It's almost as if he was thinking that he may be cursed.
Nobody knows what the future will hold for Dixon and the program. Could Dixon think he can't come back from this and eventually take another job? He's not the type to run from a challenge so you can forget that. As for the program, there will be a lot of young talent on the roster next year, and the future seems bright, but just like Dixon's future, time will tell how the program as a whole responds. I know many fans assume that Dixon will eventually break though to the promised land but that's far from certain. Many programs were great for ten or fifteen years, then the window closed for whatever reason and they fell back to the pack. Others did move on to become even bigger powers.
To get to the latter, more talent is definitely needed. Khem Birch, Steve Adams, Talib Zanna, and J.J. Moore are a good start but even more is needed. The dilemma is how to convince high level talent that Pitt is a National Championship caliber program when it's past and present is trying to convince them otherwise.
Other notes: I was often hard on Gilbert Brown, and he did miss the free throw that could have iced the game, but he was by far the best player Pitt had on this night. I still feel like he never lived up to his potential at Pitt, but his 24 points showed that he came to play in the game.
Nobody should complain that the refs called the foul on Nasir Robinson with less than a second to go. They also called a foul on Butler with just over a second to go, so they showed they were willing to do. That makes it all the more crazy why Robinson would be anywhere near Howard.