I've never been a big fan of top-ten lists, but there was a lot to digest from this year's Pitt basketball season. This year will be largely remembered for (unfortunately) the team's loss to Butler, but there were plenty of positive moments along the way.
That said, here are my top ten moments (plus one because I really couldn't cut any):
11. J.J. Moore's big night. Yes, it was against North Florida. Yes, it was a blowout game. But Moore still showed off his scoring potential. In only 19 minutes, he led the team with 19 points and eight rebounds. His playing time decreased significantly in conference play, but that game gave fans plenty of reasons to think he can be a big contributor in 2011-12.
10. Home win over UConn. Sure, Pitt was expected to win the game, but a win over UConn is always worth celebrating. Plus we all saw by the end of the season just how good the Huskies were. The big 15-point win was the perfect end to the Christmas holiday.
9. In losses, Ashton Gibbs sets career scoring highs. Despite the fact that Pitt lost both games, we got yet another glimpse of just how good Gibbs was in contests against St. John's and UConn. Gibbs posted a new career high with 26 points against the Johnnies in February, then broke that record with 27 against UConn less than a month later in the Big East Tournament.
8. Talib Zanna caps impressive start with double-double at Madison Square Garden. It was hard to know what to expect from redshirt freshman Talib Zanna this season, but in the first four games, he proved he had the capability to contribute right away. Over that span, Zanna averaged nearly a double-double (9.5 points / 9.3 rebounds). In the fourth game playing under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden against Maryland, Zanna put together a 14-point, 12-rebound effort in helping lead Pitt to the 2K Sports Classic Championship against Texas.
7. Win over Syracuse on Big Monday. Pitt defeated Syracuse in perhaps the biggest conference game on its calendar in the 2010-11 season. Big Monday and Dick Vitale were in town as the Panthers jumped out to an amazing 19-0 start. That lead didn't last long as the Orange then scored the next 19 points to tie the game. Pitt, however, went on to win the battle of top-five teams to move to 18-1.
6. Pitt claims 2K Sports Classic title with wins over Maryland and Texas. Pitt hadn't been tested too much in its first three games, so when the 2K Sports Classic rolled around, it figured to be a good litmus test. The Panthers first defeated the Maryland Terps before beating the Texas Longhorns the following night. The win over Texas proved to be a big one, as the Longhorns were ranked highly for much of the season.
5. Without Ashton Gibbs, Pitt wins road contests against West Virginia and Villanova. When Gibbs went down, I expected Pitt to lose at least one of their two games to West Virginia and then-No. 10 Villanova. The games were close as Pitt won by a combined eight points, but the Panthers found a way to win both. They reinforced the notion that Pitt wins games as a team and even without its best player was capable of winning tough road games.
4. Jamie Dixon wins 200th career game. This is more of a lifetime achievement, but Dixon won his 200th game against American University and became one of the fastest coaches in history to do so. Nuff said.
3. Pitt named No. 1 seed. Yes, I'm painfully aware of how the season ended. But guess what? A No. 1 seed is still an incredible achievement. Only four teams receive them each year and Pitt earned its second one in three seasons. Things ended badly for Pitt, no doubt, but No. 1 seeds can bring prestige to a university. That sort of thing helps in reputation, good will, and recruiting, which ultimately can result in more No. 1 seeds.
2. Pitt wins Big East regular-season title. By defeating Villanova at home, the Panthers won another Big East regular season championship. Point all you want to the many early exits made by Big East schools in the NCAAs, but it's still the best conference in all of basketball. And winning the best conference in basketball is never a bad thing.
1. Khem Birch commits to Pitt. While Birch's commitment didn't help the team one bit this season, it is the only thing on this list that sets the stage for the future. Birch's signing will hopefully lead to other top players potentially coming to Pitt and head coach Jamie Dixon now has two McDonald's All-Americans in the past three seasons. Because it can potentially affect the short- and long-term future, it gets my nod for the top spot.