In Dixon's first season (2003-2004), Pitt went 31-5 and won the Big East conference's regular season championship and Dixon was named Big East Coach of the Year. In 2006-2007, Pitt finished second in the Big East's regular season. In fact, Dixon's Panthers have never won less than 10 games in the Big East, one of the nation's toughest basketball conferences. And Pitt has advanced to the Big East tournament title game in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008, winning it in 2008.
Yet, they quickly lost as the nation's #1 team and haven't advanced past the Sweet 16. Sound all too familiar?
From all appearances, Jamie Dixon runs a clean program like Mark Richt. They are both excellent head coaches. They both have conference championships in the nation's toughest conferences for their respective sports. And yet both programs have proven time and again that they are not-ready-for-primetime players, losing quickly when ranked as the nation's #1 team and in dominated fashion. That or losing games when it seems like the programs are only a couple of rungs away from the top of the ladder.
So what gives? Only Dixon and Richt can answer that question. And that question needs to be answered by those two coaches because in today's 24-7 sports world, if a coach can't answer that question and falls short of a national championship because of it, he can kiss any mention of his name with the top coaches goodbye, no matter how many games he wins.
Dixon, being interviewed by ESPN about his impressive 6-year record, was asked why Pitt wasn't in the same discussion as the UConns of the world. He had a simple answer: Pitt hasn't won a national championship. Dixon simply said, "We have to win a national title."
Jim Calhoun and UConn is a great example. Calhoun built the UConn basketball program over many years. But until UConn upset Duke in the 1999 national championship game, UConn just wasn't mentioned with the Dukes of the world. It didn't matter how many games Calhoun had won up until that point.
As many games as Richt has won at UGA, he has to win a national championship to be mentioned with the Floridas and LSUs of the world. It doesn't matter that LSU won a title with 2 losses and it doesn't matter that Florida has never gone undefeated and it doesn't matter that Richt and UGA only lost 1 game in 2002. In the public's eyes, it comes down to the mythical national championship. God, that's tough to write...because what matters is winning when it counts, on the big stage.
I like Jamie Dixon and I like the hard-nosed basketball that Pitt plays. So, here's to the Panthers, the UGA of college basketball, winning on the big stage...or getting out of the Sweet 16...at least...
Disclaimer: I realize that some UGA fans will never cheer for Pitt at anything due to Tony Dorsett and Dan Marino. And, yes, I threw up in my mouth a little thinking about pulling for Mark May's alma mater.