Reeling Panthers need wins to stay in NCAA discussion


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There are big games and then there are important games for every team fighting for an NCAA tournament berth.

The big games are those against ranked opponents; the important ones are those that solidify a team's standing.

Pitt's next three games schedule fall into the important category.

The Panthers will visit two of the worst teams in the ACC this week -- Boston College and Notre Dame -- before playing host Monday night to a North Carolina State team Pitt beat, 74-62, Jan. 4.

Beating such teams are unlikely to stand out in the minds of the NCAA selection committee, but they are must-win games for the Panthers (20-7, 8-6 ACC) who can't afford a bad loss.

By all indications, the Panthers still are solidly considered an NCAA team by the "bracketologists," despite the 71-66 home loss Sunday against Florida State, but their status and potential seeding are dropping.

Pitt has a solid RPI (No. 41) and a chance to finish with a winning record in a power conference (they are 8-6 in ACC games with four games left). The Panthers remain safely in the field of 68 as a middle seed (Joe Lunardi of ESPN has them as a No. 10).

But Pitt's resume also includes an 0-6 record against teams in the RPI top 25 and a 1-6 mark against those in the RPI top 50.

As a result of the loss against the Seminoles (RPI 55), the Panthers have a loss outside the top 50 and a 5-7 record against RPI top 100 teams.

They play two top 100 RPI teams in their remaining four games -- North Carolina State (54) and Clemson (67) -- and could reach .500 against such teams. Pitt's other problems are its non-conference schedule, ranked No. 220 (according by RPI), and a loss against Cincinnati, the lone Top 25 team on its non-conference schedule.

The Panthers also have lost four home games and that doesn't help their overall resume because home losses carry more weight than road and neutral-site games.

The home loss to Florida State, however, was not a so-called awful loss or the resume-killer some people made it out to be.

The unranked Seminoles are a bubble team (Lunardi, for example, has them as one of the first four teams to miss the field), but their RPI isn't bad. They also have some significant wins and, like Pitt, nearly all their losses were against the best teams on their schedule.

Boston College did upset Syracuse last week when the Orange were undefeated and No. 1 in the country, but the Eagles are 7-20 (3-9 ACC) and are coming off a 27-point loss against Miami.

Boston College has a bad RPI of 180 and are 2-16 against teams in the RPI top 150.

Notre Dame (14-14, 5-10) has battled roster issues and played short-handed much of the season and is 111th in RPI and 5-11 against RPI top 150 teams. The Irish have lost seven of their past 10 games. Two of those three wins were against Boston College.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said after the loss Sunday night against the Seminoles that he isn't focused on the bigger picture of tournament-seeding or berths. Instead, he must figure out why the Panthers aren't playing well and correct it.

In the ACC teleconference Monday, Dixon said he would like the Panthers to finish in the top four spots in the ACC in order to get the "double-bye" in the conference's postseason tournament.

He quickly added that Pitt has had the double-bye several times, and it did not always translate into an advantage.

"We had a streak of getting into the top four; it is different in each league and each situation," Dixon said. "In the Big East, you got a bye but may get a quarterfinal against a top 25 team. That is how strong the league was. They have done studies on it, who wins those games, and it has been pretty inconclusive.

"You just want to win as many games as you can and finish as high as you can and try to get the best matchups possible. It is not easy [to win four games in four days], but it is not easy to win three, either, but it does happen occasionally."

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.


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