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Pitt win keeps NCAA tourney hopes alive - The Pitt News

The Pitt News

Pitt win keeps NCAA tourney hopes alive

By Dan Sostek / Assistant Sports Editor

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A few eyebrows raised after Pitt’s men’s basketball team triumphed over No. 8 Notre Dame on Saturday. Yet, a bold prediction from Fighting Irish’s head coach Mike Brey was the real surprise of the night.

“They’re an NCAA tournament team,” Brey said of Pitt at his postgame press conference. “I know they had a couple tough [losses], but I think they’re going to be in the NCAA tournament when it’s all said and done.”

Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon wasn’t as committal when discussing his team’s tournament hopes, focusing instead on how he views his squad.

“I think we’re a good team,” Dixon said following the team’s 13th victory over a top-10 opponent at the Petersen Events Center. “We’ve had to make some adjustments … We lost some tough games … We can’t do anything about the past. We’ve got to move forward.”

Despite the impressive home victory against an opponent of Notre Dame’s quality, “moving forward” for the Panthers might not be so easy if the team has aspirations of earning a tournament bid in March.

Pitt already has its fair share of blemishes on this season’s resumé. Most recently, there was the overtime loss to Virginia Tech – which, at the time, was 0-6 in the ACC – where the Panthers squandered late leads in both regulation and overtime to fall to a weak Hokies team.

There was also the home loss to Clemson, a lower-tier ACC team that — despite wins against Syracuse and NC State — will in all likelihood end up being a black mark for Pitt come Selection Sunday.

The win against Notre Dame should help repair some of the shaken faith from those two losses, but it will still not erase the damage the losses did to the Panthers’ potential for a tournament bid.

Pitt still has many opportunities to stockpile “good wins,” but herein lies the problem — the next stretch of games will be brutal for the Panthers. After Monday’s game against Bryant University, Pitt plays Syracuse (twice), Louisville, Virginia and UNC, with three of those five games on the road.

With the remainder of the schedule against middling competition, this five-game span will be a crucial determining factor in whether or not Pitt sits pretty on Selection Sunday.

As of now, the Panthers have had only one road win all season. The remaining road game slate of Louisville, Virginia, Syracuse, Wake Forest and Florida State leaves only the first three of those as potential ways to bolster the team’s credentials. If Pitt can’t steal an impressive road victory, the possibility of a tournament berth will all but vanish without a deep run in the ACC tournament after the regular season.

Of course, the conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., is the Panthers’ final opportunity to win some favor from the selection committee. But with Pitt likely missing out on a double-bye — and potentially missing out on a single-bye as well — the road to an ACC championship run would be a long, uphill battle for the Panthers.

Crazier things have happened. It would be foolish to doubt that Dixon, a 300-win accomplished coach, could figure things out and get his team on a roll.

But with the challenging schedule Dixon and the Panthers face moving forward, Saturday’s win against Notre Dame needs to be the start of some positive momentum, not an outlier.

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Pitt win keeps NCAA tourney hopes alive