What a difference a Newkirk makes. It wasn't long ago that I, along with many other Panthers fans, expressed angst and worry that the team's chances of making the NCAA tournament were quickly dwindling away.
And there was good reason for such concern.
After starting the year 18-2, and after starting out 6-1 in its first year in the ACC, Pitt stumbled, starting with a bad home loss to the Blue Devils in late-January, and lost six of 10 games.
At 22-8, following an improbable home loss to NC State, the Panthers RPI was a very dreadful 53; for a team hoping for an at-large bid, that ranking didn't bode well.
With only one regular season game remaining at Clemson, it was time to put up or shut up. And just when it looked like Pitt would be shut up, once and for all, the team erased a five point deficit in the final 2.4 seconds and tied the game on a Josh Newkirk buzzer beater following a turnover by the Tigers while trying to inbound the basketball.
Pitt would go on to win, 83-78, in overtime, and the consensus was that it would be enough to secure the at-large bid.
I don't know if that was the case or not, but the Panthers put any remaining fears to rest by advancing to the semi-finals of their first ACC tournament after impressive victories over Wake Forest and North Carolina.
The latest RPI rankings had Pitt at 38, and true to form they earned the number nine seed in the South region and will face the eighth seeded Buffaloes of Colorado this Thursday afternoon in Orlando, Fla.
The Panthers have never defeated a higher seeded team in the NCAA tournament, so a win over Colorado would at least be a milestone moment for the program. Unfortunately, after that, it will most likely be a match-up against Florida, the number one over all seed, in its own backyard.
Seems like an impossible task, but the Panthers did almost knock off Syracuse twice and Virginia twice, so it wouldn't totally shock me if Pitt at least made a game of it against the Gators.
I guess we'll soon find out. At any rate, the Panthers are going dancing.