03 February 2012
Losing the first seven games of the Big East season does not help Pitt's NCAA tournament resume. Neither does losing to Wagner and Long Beach State. But after wins over Providence, Georgetown and at WVU, it appears Pitt is at least now in the conversation for an NCAA at-large spot (via the Trib):
"I would think their chances at this point have gone from a pipe dream to a clear possibility," ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi said Tuesday.
Another national college basketball bracketologist said Pitt can do little wrong in the final month to have any hope of an at-large berth.
"I would say Pitt's margin for error is still pretty small," Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com said. "There's no way they can take a bad loss."
The recent surge lifted Pitt to No. 64 in the all-important RPI, a move of 41 spots in the past week.
"If they get 10 Big East wins, even if the 10th comes in New York (at the Big East Tournament), I think that puts them very much in play," Lunardi said. "The elephant in the room is that the Big East isn't great in the middle this year, so getting to 9-9 isn't like (eventual national champion) UConn being 9-9 last year."
Palm isn't certain a 9-9 record in the Big East would be enough for Pitt, which has nonconference wins over Tennessee and Oklahoma State. It would mean a 9-2 record in the final 11 regular-season games — something the selection committee factors — but the entire resume could still be lacking.
"I don't think I'd take my chances on a .500 record," he said. "You're talking about losing twice more. Say it's Louisville and Connecticut. You are just piling up numbers."
Lets say Pitt loses at least two more, which is certainly possible, if not probable. Then the issue becomes not so much one of RPI, but about how much the selection committee takes into consideration the loss of Travon Woodall for a chunk of the season. Pitt may very well end up with a losing record in the Big East and make the tournament - it has happened before.
ESPN lists Pitt along with Texas and Sunday opponent Villanova as teams fighting to gain a spot on the bubble. But there's a case to be made that Pitt fans should be optimistic, according to Jay Bilas (via ESPN ($)):
But a funny thing happened after Pitt was written off. The Panthers won games against Providence and Georgetown, and on Monday they won a game at West Virginia in which Woodall played an extraordinary game and Pitt looked like Pitt again. The team I saw in Morgantown did not resemble the team that lost eight in a row, and Woodall looked like the best point guard in the country. He was driving the ball, pulling up, blasting off ball screens and controlling the game on both ends.
Woodall wound up with 24 points, four rebounds and three assists, Pittsburgh got the W, and Dixon said that he preferred to view his team as 3-0 rather than 3-7. With eight Big East games remaining, it is conceivable that Pitt could go on a win streak and put itself into the at-large conversation. Pitt remains the best offensive rebounding team in the Big East and appears to be a new team with new life. Don't be surprised to see Pitt in the NCAA tournament.
It would seem the committee is well aware of what a difference Woodall makes in the lineup (via ESPN):
"The one thing we don't do is project," said Jeff Hathaway, the chair of the NCAA tournament selection committee and a current Big East conference consultant. "We don't predict or project. Pitt won the last three [games]. They've got good opponents.
"We know this team had injuries. Nobody has deleted this team or put any team from being considered [for the NCAAs] at this point."
Pitt and Villanova aren't playing an elimination game on Sunday, but a loss for either team will make the road to the tournament that much tougher.
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