Pitt has plenty room to climb or fall in ACC standings
March 1, 2016 12:00 AM
Coach Jamie Dixon says the Panthers are not going to get too high after upending No. 15 Duke Sunday, just as they didn't get too low after losing to Louisville the previous game.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
On CBS Sports Network’s “Inside College Basketball,” former longtime coach Pete Gillen was asked Sunday what Pitt’s 76-62 win against Duke meant for the Panthers.
“Pitt in their non-conference schedule was 11-1 but they played funeral homes, tattoo parlors, supermarkets and families. They played nobody in the non-league,” Gillen said. “They needed good competition. They need this win because their non-conference schedule was brutal.
“I love Jamie Dixon, but they don’t play anybody.”
Gillen might have been a little bit harsh but likely correct on two fronts. Pitt desperately needed a win Sunday because their non-conference schedule did little to bolster their resume. The victory put the Panthers in a great spot for the NCAA tournament, but it didn’t make them a lock. Their RPI is in a very safe area historically (No. 37 in ESPN RPI, No. 39 in NCAA RPI) and it was their first win against a ranked opponent and first win against a Top 25 RPI team this season.
All those things will strengthen the Panthers’ resume on Selection Sunday, but it’s still one win. The Panthers are 1-6 against teams in the Top 25 of the RPI and 2-6 against teams in the Top 50. Pitt is 1-7 against teams in The Associated Press Top 25 and could still miss the NCAA tournament if it doesn’t win at least one more game.
The Panthers’ resume is built on the strength of two things: They have no awful losses, and they have beaten many teams they would be compared to in the NCAA tournament’s at-large field.
But two of Pitt’s losses were to teams outside the top 100 as Clemson (No. 114 in ESPN, No. 115 in NCAA) and N.C. State (No. 106, No. 111) have slipped. The Panthers need to avoid another bad loss (Virginia Tech, No. 104 ESPN, No. 110 NCAA) Wednesday and can add a quality road win Saturday (Georgia Tech, No. 72).
Coach Jamie Dixon offered a word of caution Sunday after the win. Just like the Panthers weren’t going to fall apart after the loss against Louisville, they aren’t ready to throw a parade after one big win.
“We talked a lot about recovery, and, after the Syracuse game we talked about winning it and then being able to turn that page and move on to the next one,” Dixon said. “And we’ve talked about handling highs and handling lows. We played well in that Louisville game, but then gave up an eight-point lead and lost.
“Obviously, they made shots, but I think we’ve got a bunch of new guys, and it’s a process. We’re a team that had to come together, and we’re playing our best basketball right now.”
If Pitt, 6-6 in its past 12 games, can win its two remaining games, it might be able to work its way to a higher seed — and an easier draw — in the NCAA tournament. But there is a ceiling for the Panthers, in part because their non-conference strength of schedule (169) drags them down.
Two wins also could give the Panthers a double-bye in the ACC tournament. And there is a chance the Panthers could finish fourth in the conference, or at least end up as the fourth seed in the tournament.
Pitt (20-8, 9-7 ACC) was in seventh place (tied with two other teams) before conference games Monday night, but the Panthers would be the sixth seed in the ACC tournament next week in Washington, because Louisville, tied for second, is not eligible for the postseason.
If Pitt wins out, and if Notre Dame and Duke were to lose at least once, the Panthers could pull into a tie for fourth place, and they own a tiebreaker against both. Pitt also could tie Virginia for third, but the Cavaliers own the tiebreaker against the Panthers.
That requires a lot of moving parts and things to break right for Pitt. A more realistic scenario is the Panthers ending up as the fifth or sixth seed in the ACC tournament. But the win against Duke means they can’t finish any lower than 10th and have secured at least one bye in the conference tournament.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.
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