For much of the second half of the season, I've done my best to encourage Pitt fans back off of the ledge when it comes to the basketball teams. The NIT talk near the middle of the season was obviously ill-advised as the team rebounded with a couple of big wins against North Carolina and Notre Dame to get right back in the thick of the NCAA Tourney discussion.
Since then, though, the Panthers have continued to stumble a little. A near-loss to Bryant and last weekend's defeat at the hands of Wake Forest proved Pitt is far from invincible - even to weaker teams. The game against the Demon Deacons made things more difficult for the Panthers in terms of getting into the Big Dance, too.
The trendy thing to say is that Pitt's game against Miami tonight is an NCAA Tournament elimination game of sorts. I've steered clear of that sort of thing, but this late in the season, I think we're at the point where it's probably true. The loser, no matter the team, would likely need an ACC Tournament win (as in, the entire shootin' match) to get in.
A loss on either side wouldn't be a bad one. But with each team having 11 already and another to come into the ACC Tournament with the exception of running the table, 13 is just a big number. In some situations, a 13-loss team could get in, but consider the rest of each team's resume.
Both teams have bad losses. Pitt has dropped games to Hawaii, Wake Forest, and Virginia Tech. Miami is a little worse in the bad loss department, losing to Wake, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Eastern Kentucky, and Green Bay. Those last two teams don't have bad records, and Green Bay even has a solid RPI in the 60s. But dropping both of those games at home by double digits looks frightening.
In the good win column, each has some of those, but not enough in my mind to make a strong case that they really need to be in. And with so many qualified bubble teams out there, the selection committee can't be expected to put tonight's loser in.
If you asked me who's in better shape right now, I'd say Pitt. The Panthers have a pretty superior RPI to Miami right now (No. 49 to No. 70 as of Tuesday night) and fewer damaging marks against them in the loss category. But that doesn't mean Pitt can afford a loss ... they can't. And while technically an ACC Tournament win would get either team in, that just doesn't seem realistic right now.
Make no mistake about it - Pitt is playing for its season tonight.