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Rest of January make or break for Pitt basketball

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Ideally, this would have been written following Pitt's recent loss to Louisville, but better late than never.

The Panthers, of course, rebounded from that defeat with a comfortable win against Boston College. While that was a nice win, it was just the first step in what needs to be a strong run to close out the month of January. After defeating 7-10 Boston College, Pitt finds itself with a string of winnable games to finish this month. While it has been said that Pitt is still sort of an unknown at this point, that should start to change in the next several games.

First up is a date with North Carolina State on Tuesday. The Wolfpack are only 10-8 on the year and 0-5 in the ACC. North Carolina State has some quality players but with only seven guys getting regular minutes, they don't have the depth that Pitt does.

Next up is 12-5 Florida State. The Seminoles have the statement win that the Panthers do not having knocked off a top 15 Virginia team. But they have also struggled quite a bit with an early loss to Hofstra and narrow win against FAU. Make no mistake, playing at Florida State won't be easy. But this also isn't one of the games remaining on the schedule that looks completely unwinnable.

After that is a game against Clemson. The Tigers are surging and look to be the toughest test for the Panthers. They have beaten the likes of Louisville, Duke, and Miami, so there's no doubt that they are battle tested. However, Clemson has taken its share of licks, too, losing to South Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia - decent, but not great teams. Worse, the Tigers have lost to sub-.500 teams Minnesota and UMass. There's no doubt that 12-6 Clemson has looked good lately, but, the Panthers should have a chance to be competitive.

Finally, Pitt finishes the month with Virginia Tech. The Hokies are also 12-6, but have suffered some bad losses, including a demoralizing opener to Alabama State and a 17-point blowout to St. Joe's. Again, good team, but one Pitt can defeat.

Here's the thing. I wouldn't say that any of these next four games are slam dunks. Each presents its own test and while there are reasons to think the Panthers can be competitive with all of them, a loss to any of them wouldn't be a huge surprise. But if the Panthers are serious about separating themselves from the middle of the pack, these are the games they need to win. Pitt may not get all four, but with two of them at home, taking three of the four would be an important next step in establishing them as a real player in the conference.

But even beyond Pitt wanting to separate themselves from the middle of the conference, winning several of these games is significant when you consider the next portion of the Panthers' schedule. Pitt opens February with three heavyweights in Virginia and top ten Miami and North Carolina squads. If the Panthers are unable to win some of these games to finish January, things could get ugly in a hurry.

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