Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Games against ranked teams in Louisville and Syracuse will tell if Pitt is capable of competing for a Big East title
Pitt hasn't faced a week quite like this one in a few seasons when they'll square off against two potential Final Four candidates in the Louisville Cardinals and the Syracuse Orange. Later today, the Panthers will travel to the KFC Yum! Center for a Big Monday clash with Louisville and then return home to face the Orange. Both teams are coming off surprising losses to unranked teams over the weekend and hope to bounce back against a surging Panthers team that seems to be finding itself at the midway point of the Big East season.
The Cardinals are mired in a three-game losing streak after rising to No. 1 in the nation last week. Since then, they've suffered losses to Syracuse, Villanova, and Georgetown, all of which saw the efficient Louisville offense sputter late. When you think of the Cardinals, the first thing that comes to mind is the full court press they will use following made baskets. Pitt struggled in their two prior games against Providence and DePaul, and committed a season-high 18 against the Blue Demons. It's going to be much harder against a more talented Louisville squad hungry for a win.
The Panthers then return home for a contest against Syracuse, who lost in overtime at Villanova over the weekend. Pitt has recently had success against Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone, losing last year for the first time since 2006. For Pitt to come out with a win, they must control the glass. That's something they've done fairly well throughout the season, but they haven't faced a team this year that crashes the boards as well as the Orange do.
This week will do a lot for Pitt's NCAA stock. The Panthers aren't a lock for the tournament yet, but they can certainly improve those odds and their seeding with a split. Two losses, though, shouldn't affect Pitt too much since both are solid teams. Should Pitt come out of this week unscathed, the Panthers will take dead aim at a Big East title, owning head-to-head wins over the Cardinals and the Orange while getting another shot at both Marquette and Cincinnati. Those games are on the road for both, but Pitt is 3-1 in conference away games. That's something that I doubt the most optimistic fan would've guessed after Pitt blew away chance after chance in their three losses. But if we've seen anything from this past week in college basketball, it's that anything can happen.