Column | Don’t overlook the success of Pitt basketball – The Pitt News

Column | Don’t overlook the success of Pitt basketball – The Pitt News

Look how much things can change in a year. 

Last season, the Panthers came off an 11-21 season, missing the NCAA tournament for the sixth straight season. Head coach Jeff Capel was on the hot seat, and the team lost half their roster to graduation or the transfer portal.

Fast forward a year later and the Panthers finished 24-12, returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2016, winning two games in the process and building optimism for the future. But we can’t move past this season so quickly. The Panthers defied the odds and gave fans plenty of memories in the process.

The season began with the Panthers projected to finish No. 14 in the ACC. And the season certainly didn’t open well, with the Panthers starting 1-3. Then out of nowhere, the Panthers put together five wins in a row, turning a few heads in the process.

The first milestone for the Panthers was when they dominated Northwestern on the road 87-58. The result surprised many and became the first sign of what came ahead for the Panthers, especially considering that Northwestern ended up making the tournament as well. 

The Panthers won their first four ACC contests, including two road wins over NC State and Syracuse. The Panthers won just six ACC contests in 2021-22. They reached that mark halfway through January in 2022.

The Panthers’ biggest upset in 2022 came against Miami at home. The Panthers found themselves down eight with just two minutes left. An 11-0 run to end the game pushed them to a memorable win in front of a sold-out crowd.

Pitt’s win against Miami spearheaded a five-game winning streak, which pushed them into the AP Top 25 for the first time in seven years. 

All season the Panthers silenced doubters and naysayers. But no victory seemed sweeter for the Panthers than their 99-82 victory over Syracuse, after head coach Jim Boeheim accused the Panthers of “buying” their team. 

This game also featured a special moment, when senior forward Aiden Fisch scored a last-second bucket and the rest of the team mobbed him on the court. Fisch began his Pitt career as a student manager and worked his way up to make the roster. This year, Fisch even received an athletic scholarship from Capel.

The season saw both its ups and its downs, though. Pitt lost three of its last five regular-season games, including upsets against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. Their fortune didn’t improve in the ACC tournament either, as the Panthers narrowly defeated Georgia Tech, and then fell to Duke 96-69.

Heading into the NCAA tournament, things looked grim for the Panthers. They received a No. 11 seed and a matchup against No. 11 seed Mississippi State in the First Four. The Panthers advanced to the round of 64 to take on the No. 6 seed Iowa State.

The Panthers pounced on the Cyclones, including a 22-2 run to start the game, en route to a dominant 59-41 victory — a moment Pitt fans have yearned to see for more than a decade

The Panthers advanced to take on Xavier in the round of 32. Unfortunately, the Panthers’ season ended here, falling to the Musketeers 73-84.

While it wasn’t the ending the Panthers wanted, they have nothing to be disappointed about. They defied the odds all season and over-performed expectations. The future is bright for the Panthers — but the significance of their accomplishment should be savored.

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