Towards the end of the 2015-16 NCAA College Basketball season, the chances of the Pitt Panthers making it to the NCAA Tournament didn’t look too good: They hadn’t beaten a top 25 team and they also lost several games vs. lesser opponents, but that changed when Pitt pulled off a huge upset after beating ranked Duke, and when they won their opening round game vs. Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament.
But the Panthers still had underachieving losses to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech and they were blown out vs. eventual ACC Tournament Champion North Carolina, so it still wasn’t certain whether Pitt would get a chance to go dancing in this year’s Tourney.
But those concerns were squashed as the CBS NCAA Sunday Selection Show announced that the Panthers (22-11, 9-9 ACC) will play the Wisconsin Badgers Friday in the East Region in the NCAA Tournament. Regardless of the stakes for the 3rd time in the last 4 years, Pitt will put on its dancing shoes. Pitt is a 10th Seed and Wisconsin is a 7th Seed and the game will be played in St. Louis, Missouri.
“It’s a great opportunity and we’re excited,” head coach Jamie Dixon said. “We’re excited for our kids and the three graduate seniors that came here and wanted to play in the NCAA Tournament. That was their goal and now they will have that opportunity. I’m excited for James Robinson and Mike Lecak as well. We want to go play good basketball. We have five days to get ready. It’s time to find our best basketball.
Robinson, the starting point guard and Lecak a reserve, are about to graduate at the end of the season, but their college basketball careers aren’t over just yet. “It means a lot to make the tournament knowing where we were last year,” Robinson said. “We know Wisconsin is going to play hard and we’ll get right to work tomorrow to prepare for the game.”
Pitt, making its 26th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, is 24-26 all-time in the event, including a 12-10 mark under Jamie Dixon. Dixon has led the Panthers to 11 NCAA Tournament appearances in his first 13 years as head coach, tied for third-most in NCAA history for a coach through his first 13 seasons. The Panthers have made the NCAA Tournament 13 times in the past 15 seasons, tied for seventh-most in the NCAA in that span.
Pitt is joined in the East Region by  North Carolina,  Xavier,  West Virginia,  Kentucky,  Indiana,  Notre Dame,  Wisconsin,  Texas Tech,  Butler,  Michigan/Tulsa,  Chattanooga,  Stony Brook,  SF Austin,  Weber St. and  Florida Gulf Coast/  Fairleigh Dickinson.
Meanwhile the Badgers (20-12, 12-6 ACC) are making its 18th-consecutive trip to the Big Dance, the nation’s fourth-longest active streak and the fifth-longest in the history of the NCAA tournament.
Wisconsin is making its 22nd NCAA tournament appearance all-time, owning a program record of 34-20 (.630) in the tournament. The Badgers are coming off back-to-back Final Fours, including an appearance in the 2015 national championship game. The Badgers will take aim at a third-consecutive Final Four, something only 11 schools have done in the history of the NCAA tournament. The most recent team to turn the three-peat was UCLA (2006-08).
The Badgers have advanced to the Sweet 16 or beyond in four of the last five years and eight times since 2000.
The winner of the first-round matchup between Wisconsin and Pittsburgh will face the winner of a game between No. 2 seed Xavier and No. 15 seed Weber State in the second round on Sunday, March 20.
The winner of that second-round contest will advance to the East Regional, March 25 and 27 in Philadelphia.
The Badgers are 11-7 all-time vs. Pittsburgh, including an 89-75 win in the teams’ last meeting on Dec. 16, 2006, when seventh-ranked Wisconsin got 32 points from Alando Tucker and 27 from Brian Butch to down the No. 2-ranked Panthers at the Kohl Center.
The teams have met twice in the NCAA tournament, splitting those games. UW claimed a 36-30 win over the Panthers in Madison on its way to the 1941 national championship. In 2004, third-seeded Pittsburgh scored a 59-55 win over No. 6 seed Wisconsin in a second-round game in Milwaukee.
Game times and TV designations for the 2016 NCAA Tournament will be announced late Sunday evening.
Notes: As for the rest of the NCAA Tournament, Kansas was awarded the #1 overall Seed with Virginia, North Carolina and surprising Oregon getting the remaining top spots. In addition to VA, UNC and Pitt, the ACC will send 7 teams to the Big Dance this season with the other 4 teams being Duke, Miami, Notre Dame, and Syracuse.
The ACC’s seven teams matches the league record set in first set 2007 and equaled in 2009. This year’s two number-one regional seeds raise the ACC’s all-time number to 34, most among all conferences.
The other local team is the West Virginia Mountaineers (26-8, 13-5 Big 12) who was one of the nation’s top 10 teams all season. They were awarded a #3 Seed and will play 14th Seed Stephen F. Austin (27-5, 18-0 Southland Conference) in Brooklyn, New York.
Please e-mail Ray at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow me @urbanmediaRay on twitter