WASHINGTON - MARCH 19: Members of the Pittsburgh basketball team including Nasir Robinson #35, Ashton Gibbs #12; and Brad Wanamaker#22 walk off the court following their loss against Butler in the third round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Verizon Center on March 19, 2011 in Washington, DC. Butler won the game 71-70. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Another season, another early exit.
Talk all you want about the 28-6 season, the number one seed, or the Big East regular-season championship - at the end of the day, it's hard to say how much of it really matters. Pitt's disappointing loss to Butler on Saturday night doesn't mean those accomplishments shouldn't be remembered. But the cold fact is that fans are going to remember how this one slipped away more than any of those achievements.
Pitt, of course, had several chances to win the game. Of the last-second miscues, the most egregious was allowing the shot clock to expire. In case you missed it, the Panthers were up by one with under 10 seconds to play, but failed to get a shot off before time ran out. Even if they had missed the shot, an attempt would have allowed valuable seconds to tick off the clock. And who knows - as one of the top offensive-rebounding teams in college basketball, there's a modest chance that Pitt would have grabbed the rebound and retained possession of the ball. The Panthers simply should not have allowed that to happen, and in the end, it cost them.
Butler made a basket at the other end, but bailed Pitt out by fouling Gilbert Brown near midcourt with only about two seconds remaining. Brown had a chance to play hero for Pitt, but missed the second free throw attempt. Still, with the game tied, Pitt still appeared headed for overtime. Unfortunately, Nasir Robinson, known for his physical play, fouled Butler's Matt Howard with less than a second remaining. Howard calmly sank the game-winning free throw, missed the second attempt, and the rest is ...
Well you get the point.
With so many mistakes in the final ten seconds, it's hard to say that any one of them doomed Pitt. All three played a vital role in another epic collapse and Panther fans were left wanting more. Again.
A frustrating aspect of all of this is that Pitt played a pretty good game. The team shot over 50 percent from the field, didn't turn the ball over all that much, and won the rebounding battle fairly convincingly. As I mentioned over at Cardiac Hill after the game, when you add all of that up, the result would be a Pitt win most of the time. I would never expect to see those numbers result in a Pitt loss.
The reason? Well, other than the last-second collapses, it came down to another spectacular individual performance. If you watched the Big East tournament, you know the team had a similar scenario when it played well, but lost to UConn on Kemba Walker's 24 points and last-second basket. This time around, it was Shelvin Mack, who scored 30 points in leading Butler to victory. Brown himself had one of his best games for Pitt, but couldn't convert on that final free throw. Simply put, plays like that are the difference between winning and losing in the NCAA Tournament.
So where does this one rank in the history of epic failures? Well, at least in 2008-09, the team reached the Elite Eight. And while, they fell short of the Final Four by a hair, reaching the fourth round of the NCAA tournament is still an achievement. Losing as a No. 1 seed in the second round, however, is nothing short of embarrassing, and I'd rank this season as a bigger disappointment. The Panthers played well enough to win most games, but at the end of the day, it just wasn't enough.