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Pitt non-conference basketball schedule improving

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt doesn't yet have a marquee game on the non-conference portion of its basketball schedule next season, but with the recent addition of Cincinnati (who Pitt will play in the Jimmy V Classic), the schedule could be a reasonable one. I'm not willing to call it a 'good' schedule, but it easily tops last year's already.

In the past, Jamie Dixon has thrived on finding mid-major opponents that end up winning their conferences. These teams post decent RPIs and, in turn, have boosted the Panthers' Strength of Schedule. Plus, by playing those teams at home, Pitt has a pretty strong chance to win them. That scenario didn't play out last year, though.

Michigan, an NCAA finalist last year, was the only quality team on the schedule and Pitt lost that game. Lehigh was a 21-win team and Detroit won 20, but neither got into the Big Dance. Mount St. Mary's and Delaware both had winning records ... but just barely.

Fordham, Oakland, Duquesne, North Florida, Delaware State, Kennesaw State, Bethune-Cookman, and Howard all had losing records. Add it all up, and eight of Pitt's 13 non-conference games were against very bad teams.

Part of that wasn't on Pitt since they expected to get a game in the Big East-SEC Challenge, but didn't. And in the end, that cost them the chance at another quality game.

This year, though, things are looking up - if only slightly. Pitt gets Cincinnati in the Jimmy V Classic as mentioned above. The Bearcats lose second-leading scorer Cashmere Wright, but return a good nucleus, including Sean Kilpatrick who opted to come back passing on the NBA Draft. Cincinnati, a 22-win team last year, should be solid.

There's also Penn State - Pitt's BIG-ACC Challenge opponent. The Nittany Lions were an awful team next year, but will be better in 2013-14, returning a strong backcourt. And just from a pure rivalry standpoint, having them on the schedule is far better than any number of those losing teams above, with the exception of maybe Duquesne, who Pitt plays annually in The City Game.

And, there's the trio of Stanford, Texas Tech, and Houston in play. Pitt will match up against two of them in the Legends Classic. ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has Stanford in his early projected NCAA Tournament field for next season. Houston also won 19 games and while Texas Tech wasn't very good the past three years, they have produced decent teams from time to time. Plus, with Tubby Smith there now, I expect the team to turn things around. Even if it doesn't happen this year, Pitt should still get at least one quality game among the field.

The schedule still has a long way to go. But depending on the other teams that fill it out, it could still improve.

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