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Despite recent setbacks, the NCAA Tournament still a very real possibility for Pitt

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As of Joe Lunardi's most recent ESPN Bracketology projections, the Pitt Panthers were still nowhere to be seen. That doesn't mean the team's NCAA Tournament hopes are dashed.

Not by a long shot, actually.

This isn't meant to be a thesis of why Pitt will reach the top postseason tournament. However, I think it's important to remember that there's a lot of season left and the Panthers can still get to the Big Dance.

For starters, the Panthers' record really isn't all that bad. It's certainly not what we're used to with this program under Jamie Dixon, but even beyond considering how young the team is, a 13-7 mark at this point in the season isn't something that will bury their chances. Not great, but not a deal breaker or a hole too difficult to climb out of. The Panthers can still get to 20 wins and even post a .500 record in the conference, and in the ACC this year, that should at least get the team in the conversation.

Pitt still has plenty of very winnable games left. Bryant, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Wake Forest, and Florida State seem like good candidates for wins, and grabbing those would put Pitt at 18 wins overall and give them seven of their needed nine ACC wins. To expect the team to win all of them may be too much to ask, but at the same time, if they're playing for their season, it's not unrealistic to think they could run the table, either. None of those teams are all that good this year and Florida State/Boston College lead the way with .500 records. But even if they don't win all of them, though, there are still other opportunities left.

In the category of teams that could be slight favorites against Pitt, we've got two against Syracuse and one against Miami. Those will be difficult games for the Panthers, obviously, but Pitt gets two of them at home and winning one wouldn't be that far-fetched - that would get Pitt to 19 wins and eight of the nine ACC wins needed to be .500 there. Even two could be a possibility with strong efforts.

Then you've got the heavyweights - Notre Dame, North Carolina, Louisville, and Virginia. At Louisville and Virginia, I don't give the team much of a chance. Pitt hung with the Cardinals for a good portion of this weekend's game, but while Louisville shot really well, the Panthers also played one of their better games. On the road, I don't like their chances. Notre Dame and North Carolina at home? Who knows. No, I'm not expecting to win one of those, but that's why you play the games. After all, would winning one at the Pete be the most shocking thing you've ever seen?

Related to that, many feel that the Panthers are going to need a statement win or two. That's possible, but beating either Miami or Syracuse (they play both teams at home, too) would really help. Pitt may not beat any of those last four teams I mentioned, but beating Miami and Syracuse definitely would help the resume.

Plus, the other piece of the puzzle I haven't seen mentioned on the site all that much when talking about Pitt getting to the NCAAs is the ACC Tournament. The Panthers had somewhat of a questionable resume last year before the ACC Tourney, then rattled off two wins, including one over a ranked North Carolina team. Pitt may not be able to win two games in the tournament, but getting one would go a long way.

And here's the thing regarding the ACCs - with the double bye format, Pitt may not run into one of the conference's best teams in their first game. The first four teams will get two byes and with such a deep conference, there's a chance they could face a ranked team in the first game. But if they grab some of those other wins I mentioned earlier in the article, they have a great chance to move up in the standings and avoid the better teams in their first game. That could mean a victory and would strengthen any hopes they have of getting in.

Finally, while Pitt fell apart at the end and lost to Louisville on Sunday, I was encouraged by the team's effort overall. Really, they just ran into a buzzsaw with the Cardinals shooting so well. That, combined with the press, which gave them trouble, was just too much to overcome. But Pitt could beat many teams with that effort IMO.

Should Pitt be expected to reach the NCAAs? I don't know that I'd say that. This team is incredibly young and there just aren't many games you can expect them to cruise to an easy win. It is, however, entirely too early to declare the Panthers an NIT team right now and the team still has a fighting chance to get in.

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