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NIT Bound...Probably

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There is still time left for the Pittsburgh Panthers (15-8, 4-5) to make a run at the NCAA Tournament. However, nothing about their play gives fans a reason to be overly optimistic.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Technically, the Pittsburgh Panthers could still make the NCAA Tournament. I am not sure who actually believes that, but it sure makes for some nice click bait on the internet. Despite their upset victory against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish last weekend, the reality is that making the Big Dance remain daunting for Pitt.

We could talk about the struggles on the offensive end, the inconsistent defense, the glaring lack of talent (thanks Rick Pitino), but let's try to keep this based purely on facts. At 15 wins, and only four ACC victories, recent history says that the Panthers will need to win at least five more games, as the 20-win mark is a pretty decent benchmark.

Pitt is going to have to get into the NCAA Tournament via an automatic bid barring something drastic happening. Last year, only the Nebraska Cornhuskers made the Big Dance with a win total under 20 - they had 19. But Nebraska had the 32nd ranked strength of schedule with three victories against top-25 opponents based on RPI. The Panthers are currently ranked 63rd in terms of SOS with zero victories in two opportunities against opponents with a top-25 RPI.

In 2013, no team with less than 20 wins received an at-large bid; four teams qualified with exactly 20 victories. Of course, Pitt could win one or two games in the conference tournament if they fail to reach that mark beforehand, but that might only put them on the bubble.

Looking over the rest of the Panthers schedule, it's hard to find W's. I don't think it would surprise anyone if they lost all five of their next games. Although, they could defeat a suddenly disinterested (probably not) Syracuse Orange team that has nothing to play for. Pitt has also historically played well against Syracuse under head coach Jamie Dixon. The Panthers rather miraculously defeated the Boston College Eagles on the road last month, a showdown at the "Pete" is anything but a certainty. No road game is a sure thing, and the final game at home against the Miami Hurricanes will be a challenge.

Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if they closed the season 2-7 or if they went 6-3; this team has been on a seesaw all season. Chances are they'll finish somewhere in the middle of that and every Pitt fan will be rooting for at least two victories in Greensboro, North Carolina.

In the end, I think the NIT is in this team’s future, and I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing. It saves every Panthers fan from lamenting if/when they get booted in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and perhaps they can make a deeper run in the NIT. It would mark just the second time in Dixon's tenure that his team failed to reach the Big Dance since the 2011-2012 season. There's also an outside chance he'll win fewer games than any other Pitt team under his watch; the team went 20-9 in 2004-2005, Dixon's second season at the helm.

This has been a season of rebuilding. The sophomore class has a lot of room to grow still, and they're all contributing at a high level now. Forwards Jamel Artis and Michael Young have established themselves as the best two players on the team. Point guard Josh Newkirk still has a lot of upside, and guard/forward Chris Jones has emerged as a solid rotation player at the very least. So while this team is likely headed for the NIT, fans should rejoice in that the best is yet to come with this young team.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author @Stephen_Gertz