Posted on: March 13, 2009 5:34 am

Pitt drops Big East Tourney opener

 If anyone is shocked No. 2 Pitt lost in New York to unranked West Virginia, consider Panther leaders like Sam Young and Levance Fields have talked for months about making their mark in the NCAA tourney.

Pitt fans have been left flustered, frustrated and shaking their collective heads as the Panthers under Jamie Dixon, haven't penetrated past the Round of 16. This team has its eye on the prize... and that is NCAA glory.

The Big East tournament is all well and good, but it's been-there-done-that for this group of Panthers - notably last season.

Pitt spent a lot of energy winnings its last two regular season games against longtime nemisis Marquette and then-top-ranked UConn. The victories sealed a No. 1 seed for Pitt in the NCAAs, despite what ESPN's "Fran" thinks.

Pitt's biggest concern is its long-term goal. I'm not saying they intentionally lost to WVU, but anyone who's watched this team over the past two months saw the hustle and passion was simply not there Thursday.

You can say DeJaun Blair was in foul trouble all you want. Sam Young shot poorly, Levance Feilds wasn't his court-general self and Tyrell Biggs had another poor showing in a rare chance to shine. Pitt was also 0-for-8 from 3-point range and got killed on the boards. Lack of personel can only take so much blame over lack of effort.

And, when the beat reporters came calling afterwards, proclaimed leaders Young and Fields were nowhere to be found, having quickly vacated the locker room. This was clearly not just an off night for the Pittsburgh mens' basketball team.

Were the Panthers looking ahead? Definitely. Did they take the WVU game as seriously as they should have? Probably not.

Give the Mountaineers defense much credit. While a more motivated Pitt team may have solved WVU's alignment, hopefully this loss - and a lot of videotape review - Dixon time to solve the 1-3-1 that flustered Panther shooters all game.

Sunday, the Panthers will garner a No. 1 seed - their first in program history - either in the Midwest or West. And this is the time the Panthers have been focused on. Pitt has four to five days to both rest and prepare. This luxury comes at the expense of another Big East semifinal appearance and perhaps a chance for revenge against Louisville.

We'll see if that approach works starting next week. If so, and the Panthers roll past their first four NCAA opponents, tonight's early bowing out of the Big East tourney will fade into the historical realm of irrelavance.

However, for this Pitt grad - and for the team's seniors and longtime fans - anything less than a Final Four appearance would disappoint. More importantly, not getting past the Sweet 16 yet again would simply be a colossal failure... and no doubt change the way future Dixon-led squads approach their league's postseason tourney no matter what happened before or what lay ahead.

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