I know, I know - I get it. A Pitt contributing writer on a regional Pittsburgh site picks the Panthers to go to the Final Four. Big shock, right?
Well, actually it is. I've always found it hard to pick the Panthers to go far in the NCAAs. I don't even remember doing so back in 2008-09 when the team had maybe its best collection of talent ever. Even in years when the Panthers have an extraordinarily good team, I've just had a hard time jumping on the bandwagon of one team over an entire field. I really consider myself an anti-homer and instead of finding reasons Pitt can win, I'll generally point out why they can lose.
But for what it's worth, I think this is the year Pitt finally breaks through. Not because this is Pitt's best team - it's not. That 08-09 team had two NBA players on it playing key roles and was a layup away from possibly getting to the Final Four.
No, the reason this will be the year is that the Panthers' path to Houston is extremely manageable.
After an opening round game against either UNC Asheville or Arkansas-Little Rock, which should be an easy victory, the Panthers will take on Butler or Old Dominion. Both teams are quite capable of beating Pitt and I can't stress enough how little I would be surprised if that actually happened. Pitt loses these types of games against good, but not great, teams. So falling short in a second-round game would be an upset, but not a huge surprise. And playing in Washington D.C., Old Dominion could have a virtual home game, despite the fact that Pittsburgh is a relatively short trip to the nation's capital. But in the end, I expect Jamie Dixon to have Pitt focused enough to move on to the Sweet 16.
Should Pitt get that far, one of Kansas State, Wisconsin, Belmont, or Utah State will be waiting. All of those schools have quality programs, but Pitt only has to beat one of them to get to the Elite Eight. In a one-game scenario, the Panthers are more than capable of moving on.
Pitt's toughest test should come in its next matchup, which could potentially be against Florida, BYU, or St. John's. Florida would probably be the most difficult opponent and the Gators would be playing what almost amounts to a home game in New Orleans. Still, the Gators were somewhat of a surprise No. 2 seed and if they're all that stands between Pitt and the Final Four, the Panthers should be motivated to come out and play their best game of the season. Florida is plenty beatable, as losses to Jacksonville, Mississippi State, and Jacksonville have shown.
Nothing is ever a lock, but the Panthers' Final Four hopes are bright. It's time for the team to cash in and make them a reality.