Less than two weeks ago, Jamie Dixon and his Pittsburgh Panthers had been left for dead in the Big East. After starting the season comfortably ranked in the Top 20 nationally, the Panthers displayed chinks in the armor early in the season, but the wheels didn’t start coming off until they lost to Wagner, at home, right before Christmas. Pitt followed that disappointing loss with seven more disappointing losses in a row and looked absolutely nothing like the program that Dixon and his predecessor Ben Howland had built into a consistent winner.
But now, following a gutsy road win over a talented West Virginia team, the Panthers have a pulse, even if it is a faint one. Make no mistake, Pittsburgh’s NCAA Tournament prospects are still really dim, and even if they win out, they will really have only secured themselves a spot on the bubble. But the NCAA Tournament isn’t completely out of the question and that should be a good enough excuse for Pitt fans to start having the discussion anyway.
Let’s start with the obvious. If Pitt is going to make the NCAA Tournament, they will need to win most of if not the rest of their games. Their RPI and Strength of Schedule will both benefit from a grueling conference schedule, so they don’t need to worry about finding marquee wins as much as they need to avoid bad losses. With that said, they absolutely must win their next three games, because a loss to NIT-bound Villanova, bound-to-come-back-to-earth South Florida, or already-sliding Seton Hall would likely doom their Tournament hopes.
Assuming they can will win all three of those games they will at least re-enter the discussion. But there are three more games the Panthers should be circling on their schedule — a rematch with West Virginia at home, a trip to Louisville 10 days later, and a trip to Connecticut for the last home game of the season. There will be games to win in the conference tournament, but it’s hard to believe that anything short of the conference championship would boost Pitt into the NCAA Tournament if they lose once or more at the end of the regular season.