The Pitt Panthers lost in their opening game of the Big East tournament on Thursday when UConn's Kemba Walker sank a 17-foot jumper as time expired to give Conneticut a 76-74 victory.
Pitt fans are worried that the defeat will knock the Panthers out of a number 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Not that this matters, but Joe Lunardi, the ESPN bracketology guy, still projects the Panthers as a number 1 seed in the West region. I believe conference tournaments are nice when a team is either on the bubble or trying to enhance its seeding in the Big Dance, but for a team ranked as high as Pitt was during the regular season, the prospect of playing three games in three nights in the toughest and most physical conference in the country can't do anything but wear a team out.
I'm sure the loss hurt the pride of the players, who won the conference outright in the regular season, but I doubt there will be any carryover come tournament time.
The Panthers have no idea who they will be playing nor do they know when are where. I do know that the team should have a fairly easy time of it in the first round and all it could take is one impressive win to give the team momentum and erase the bad taste from the Big East tournament. When it comes to momentum, however, I don't believe in momentum carrying over from conference tournaments. Three years ago, the Panthers won four games in four days to win the Big East tournament and in doing so, improved their seeding from a projected 7th or 8th seed all the way up to the 4th seed. They were so hot, Bobby Knight even predicted they would win the National championship. As it turned out, "momentum" from winning the Big East tournament only carried them as far as the 2nd round of the NCAAs where they lost to Michigan State.
Two years ago, they lost in the first round of the Big East tournament but made it all the way to the regional finals in the NCAA tournament.
Granted, they had a number 1 seed in '09 when they made their run, but that's my point. Pitt will be no worse than a 2nd seed in the tournament.
Missing out on the coveted 1 seed might cause some fans to panic, but there are no absolutes in sports. Even if the Panthers get "only" a 2nd seed, that doesn't necessarily mean their second round opponent will be tougher than if they were a 1 seed. There isn't much difference in competition when you're talking about teams seeded 7th-10th.
If momentum was a huge factor, then I might be worried about the Panthers, but the biggest factor in the NCAA tournament is matchups and we'll just have to wait and see who Pitt plays before we start writing them off.