For the past six seasons, the NCAA Tournament was an event Pitt fans followed because it’s what you do in March. They rooted only for their brackets, hoping to have a reason to brag to their buddies.
Now, Pitt fans can, actually, have a specific rooting interest in the tournament, thanks to Jeff Capel and his rebuilt roster. Pitt won 22 games this season, doubling the Panthers’ total from a year ago.
Still, there will be anxious moments Sunday night before the NCAA Tournament committee reveals the 68 teams that will compete for the national championship. A slump that started a few days after Valentine’s Day dropped Pitt into fifth place in the ACC, and a 27-point loss to Duke in the conference tournament raised some questions.
Still, most college basketball analysts believe Pitt will be invited. The Tribune-Review’s Bracketology slots Pitt against Rutgers in the First Four in Dayton, an old-school Big East battle of 11 seeds.
We had intended to project a Pitt/Penn State game in this spot, but the Nittany Lions defeated Illinois and Northwestern to reach the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament and earn the right to avoid Dayton.
Just speculation, of course. The committee never called The Trib for an opinion. Enjoy — or ridicule — at your pleasure.
First Four (Dayton, Ohio)
No. 11 Pitt (22-11) —An opportunity for Pitt to make it all right after losing four of its past seven games.
No. 11 Rutgers (19-14) — Won at Purdue on Jan. 2, and didn’t go away quietly in 70-65 Big Ten Tournament loss to Boilermakers.
No. 11 Boise State (24-9) — The Broncos pay the price for alternating victories and defeats over their past six games.
No. 11 West Virginia (19-14) — Mountaineers understand the value of Big 12 membership.
No. 16 Southeast Missouri State (19-16) — Needed OT to defeat Tennessee Tech (16-17) in OVC title game.
No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson (19-15) —Lost NEC title game to Merrimack (ineligible while transitioning to D-I).
No. 16 Northern Kentucky (22-12) — Recorded 14 steals in Horizon title-game win vs. Cleveland State.
No. 16 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (23-10) — Trevian Tennyson shoots 41.2% from 3-point range, 90.8% from foul line.
No. 1 Kansas (25-6) — Jalen Wilson, 19.8 PPG; Kansas-born freshman Gradey Dick 41.1% from 3-point range.
No. 16 Howard (20-12) — Started 4-8, with losses to Kentucky and VCU, but dropped only 4 after Dec. 11.
No. 8 Michigan State (19-12) — Losses to Notre Dame and Ohio State push the Spartans off the No. 7 line.
No. 9 Auburn (20-12) — A 16-3 start provided the cushion the Tigers needed to go dancing.
No. 5 Indiana (22-10) — Hoosiers slumped to 3-3 over final six regular-season games, but reached the Big Ten semifinals.
No. 12 Oral Roberts (30-4) — Perfect 21-0 record in Summit, including 92-58 vs. North Dakota State in title game.
No. 4 Kansas State (23-9) — With a recent past that includes victories vs. Texas, Kansas, Baylor (twide), Wildcats can make a run.
No. 13 Southern Utah (22-11) — In a WAC semifinal Friday, the Thunderbirds, who once trailed by 23, were down 3 with 4 seconds left when Tevian Jones hit a 3-pointer, was fouled and turned it into a game-winning 4-point play.
No. 6 Texas A&M (23-8) — Vest-wearing coach Buzz Williams’ Aggies won 9 of 10 in Feb./March.
No. 11 Pitt/Rutgers winner — A reunion with Williams may await the Panthers, who used to confront him when he coached at Marquette and Virginia Tech.
No. 3 Marquette (27-6) — Golden Eagles have won eight in a row on their way to the championship game of the Big East Tournament).
No. 14 Furman (27-7) — Paladins’ top 2 scorers, Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson, have combined shooting percentage of 53.6.
No. 7 Creighton (21-12) — Ranked No. 9 by AP in preseason, lost six in a row in Nov./Dec.
No. 10 N.C. State (23-10) — Terquavion Smith is third in the ACC with an average of 17.5 PPG.
No. 2 Purdue (27-5) — Butler’s Ethan Morton averages 4.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG while starting 29 games.
No. 15 Vermont (22-10) — Catamounts take 14-game winning streak into American East title game Saturday.
1. UCLA (29-4) — Won Pac-12 regular-championship by four games; John Wooden would be proud. Bill Walton is proud, and isn’t afraid to tell you.
No. 16 Northern Kentucky vs. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi winner — Bruins should win by a couple dozen points.
No. 8 Maryland (22-12) — Two close losses at Nebraska and Penn State, plus Friday’s loss to Indiana in Big Ten Tournament, shove Terrapins into 8/9 game.
No. 9 Clemson (23-9) — Defeated Duke, but lost to Louisville. Trip to ACC semifinals deciding factor in nabbing NCAA berth.
No. 5 TCU (22-12) — Jamie Dixon’s Horned Frogs were 16-4 on Jan. 24 before losing 8 of 13.
No. 12 Providence (21-11) — Bryce Hopkins will be a factor on makes and misses (16.1 PPG and 8.5 RPG).
No. 4. Virginia (25-6) — Only three opponents have scored 70 or more points vs. Cavaliers.
No. 13 Iona (25-7) — Rick Pitino has had 4 different players lead Gaels in scoring past 6 games.
No. 6 Saint Mary’s (26-7) — Won 16 of 17 games before losing twice to Gonzaga in 11 days.
No. 11 Arizona State/West Virginia winner — Mountaineers, who have won 4 of their past 6 games, are dangerous because of their intense style and dogged defense.
No. 3 Duke (24-8) — Not bad, Jon Scheyer, for a coach tasked with replacing a legend.
No. 14 Louisiana (26-7) — Ragin’ Cajuns lost at Texas, 100-72, so the Blue Devils should easily cruise into the second round.
No. 7 Missouri (24-8) — Started 9-0 before running into Kansas in a 95-67 beat-down.
No. 10 USC (22-10) — Boogie Ellis scored 33, 35 vs. Stanford, Arizona, but 15 in Pac-12 Tournament game vs. Arizona State.
No. 2 Gonzaga (28-5) — Zags going to 24th consecutive NCAA Tournament under coach Mark Few.
No. 15 Kennesaw State (26-8) — The Atlantic Sun champion Owls, who were 1-28 three years a go, earned their first trip to the NCAA Tournament, thanks to a 67-66 victory against Liberty.
No. 1 Alabama (27-5) — Like it or not, Brandon Miller (19.6 PPG) can carry Tide a long way.
No. 16 UC- Santa Barbara — Gauchos have come a long way since their 72-61 loss at Duquesne on Nov. 29.
No. 8 Florida Atlantic (30-3) — Yeah, it’s only Conference USA, but it’s hard to win 20 in a row.
No. 9 Memphis (23-8) — Only losses in last 8 regular-season games were by 2 and 8 points to Houston.
No. 5 Miami (25-6) — The U lost 3 starters from 2021 Elite 8 team, still won ACC regular season.
No. 12 Mississippi State (21-12) — Bulldogs won 9 of 12 games before getting run over by Alabama on Friday, 72-49.
No. 4 Baylor (22-10) — The Bears were headed toward a more favorable seed before dropping four of six games, including back-to-back losses to Iowa State.
No. 13 Yale (20-7) — Bulldogs No. 1 seed in 4-team Ivy League Tournament that begins Saturday.
No. 6 Kentucky (21-11) — No. 4 in preseason Top 25 poll, John Calipari’s inconsistent Wildcats even lost to Georgia (16-16).
No. 11 Kent State (27-6) — Former Duquesne guard Sincere Carry leads the Golden Flashes in scoring (17.2 points) and assists per game (4.9).
No. 3 Xavier (25-8) —Watch out if Souley Boum gets hot. He scored 33 at Providence, 1 short of career high.
No. 14 Montana State (25-9) — Native Englishmen Jubrile Belo, Great Osobor, Caleb Fuller are 3 of Bobcats’ top 5 scorers.
No. 7 Northwestern (21-11) — Wildcats lost to Pitt by 29, but were 20-7 on Feb. 19 before losing four of its past five, including Penn State twice in OT.
No. 10 Utah State (26-7) — Aggies won 9 in a row to start the season, currently sitting with 7-game winning streak.
No. 2 Texas (25-8) — Former Pitt guard Marcus Carr leads Longhorns with an average of 16.1 PPG.
No. 15 Grambling (24-8) — While winning 11 in a row, the Tigers have allowed more than 64 points only twice.
No. 1 Houston (30-2) — Two winning streaks of nine games, current one at 12 in a row, but lost to Temple (16-15).
No. 16 Southeast Missouri State/Fairleigh Dickinson winner — Congratulations, you get to lose to, possibly, the next national champion by, oh, about 35.
No. 8 Illinois (20-12) — First-team All-Big Ten guard Terrence Shannon Jr. averages 17.1 PPG.
No. 9 Arkansas (20-13) — Started 11-1, then the SEC happened and Razorbacks have now lost 6 of their past 9 games.
No. 5 Iowa State (19-13) — A good team gobbled up by the Big 12, but Cyclones recovered to beat Baylor in conference tournament before losing to Kansas.
No. 12 Charleston (31-3) – Cougars have reached four digits in 3-point attempts (1,027), but they make only 33.4%.
No. 4 UConn (25-8) — Only blemish in last 9 regular-season games was 3-point loss at Creighton.
No. 13 Drake (27-7) — While winning 13 of their past 14 games, the Bulldogs nailed down the past 8 by an average margin of 18.9 points.
No. 6 San Diego State (25-6) — Lost games when stepping up in class vs. Arizona, Arkansas and Saint Mary’s.
No. 11 Penn State (21-12) — Nittany Lions have won 6 games since Feb. 18 by a total margin of 20 points to earn their first Big Ten Tournament semifinal berth since 2018.
No. 3 Tennessee (23-10) — Beat Alabama and Texas, but lost to Florida and Colorado and failed to reach the SEC Tournament semifinals. Are Vols for real?
No. 14 Colgate (25-8) — Pitt point guard Nelly Cummings’ former team has advanced to the past 4 NCAA Tournaments.
No. 7 Iowa (19-12) — In recent 6-day span, Hawkeyes beat Indiana by 22 on the road, lost to Nebraska (16-15) at home by 4.
No. 10 VCU (25-7) — Won Atlantic 10 regular season, but lost to Duquesne, 79-70, Jan. 4.
No. 2 Arizona (27-6) — The Wildcats won 60 of 70 games in the past two seasons, and will play UCLA for the Pac-12 championship Saturday.
No. 15 UNC Asheville (27-7) — Calendar year 2023 record: 18-1, but best nonconference victory is UCF in 2 OTs on Nov. 7.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .
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