Preseason NIT games shape up as key to season

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Pitt unveiled its men's basketball schedule Wednesday, and the two most important games of the season are in November. It might sound crazy, but Pitt's postseason chances could hinge on two games early season games at Petersen Events Center.

Here's why. Pitt is in the Preseason NIT, a win-and-advance tournament that does not guarantee opponents. It is the only true in-season tournament.

The Panthers will play host to games Nov. 12 and 13. They must win those games to advance to the semifinal round of the event at Madison Square Garden in New York, where they likely would play teams from other major conferences.

If the Panthers do not win both games, they will not play a team from a major conference until the Big East portion of the schedule begins New Year's Eve. This is important because Pitt's ranking in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), an important element in determining the NCAA tournament field, could be damaged without games against major-conference foes.

Pitt's opponents in the Preseason NIT have not yet been unveiled, but sources indicate the three other teams in Pitt's pod are Robert Morris, Lehigh and Fordham. Lehigh has a strong returning cast from a team that upset Duke in the first round of the NCAA tournament in March.

The other power conference schools hosting Preseason NIT tournament games are Virginia, Michigan and Kansas State. If Pitt advances to MSG it will play a semifinal game Nov. 21 and either a consolation or championship game Nov. 23.

If the Panthers do not advance they will play host to two lower-level teams Nov. 19 and 20 at Petersen Events Center.

The one game against a major-conference foe Pitt was expecting never materialized. Pitt played at Tennessee in the SEC-Big East Invitational last season, and Dixon was expecting a home game against an SEC opponent at Petersen Events Center this season. But in the wake of Pitt's decision to switch to the ACC, the Big East reneged on its promise, leaving a gaping hole in the schedule. Dixon filled it with a Dec. 1 home game against Detroit.

Pitt will not play West Virginia for the first time since the 1916-17 season.



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