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Pitt basketball has easier time with non-conference schedule this year

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a 12-1 record and a Top 25 ranking, the jury is still largely out on Pitt's basketball team. The Panthers have defeated just about everyone in their path, but truth be told, Pitt still doesn't have that statement win to declare them a true contender for a deep NCAA Tournament run. But while we don't yet know how good the Panthers are quite yet, we do know one thing - they're better than last year.

ACC play is just underway but the non-conference portion of the schedule shows pretty clearly that this year's team is better than last year's squad and they have had a much easier time of things so far.

Last season, Pitt struggled quite a bit in the non-con slate. Most notably, they were upset by a decent, but not great Hawaii team. The Rainbow Warriors did win 22 games but missed the NCAA Tournament and, at the end of the day, weren't an unbeatable foe - even on the road.

The biggest difference, perhaps, is the close calls. Pitt, very easily, could have ended up with more non-conference losses last season. They beat Samford by only seven in a game that went right down to the wire (Pitt led by only three with under thirty seconds left). They beat an 18-win St. Bonaventure team by only four in another game that went right down to the end (Pitt led by one with five seconds left). The Panthers also needed overtime to defeat Oakland - another team that missed the NCAA Tournament and finished with a sub-.500 record. Finally, there was a narrow five-point win against a 16-15 Bryant team where the Panthers actually trailed with just over two minutes left before pulling away late. Keep in mind, that game was in the middle of the ACC slate where you would expect the team to have worked out its early-season issues.

The reality is that Pitt was pretty fortunate to finish the non-con schedule with only three losses.

To be fair, this year's team had some relatively close calls so far. They defeated Western Carolina, Kent State, and Morehead State by an average of only about eight points per game. However, that's a far cry from the closer wins (and in the case of Hawaii, a loss) that last year featured. For the most part, Pitt hasn't only beaten teams but has done so handily (more on that in a bit).

Look, too, at the Duquesne game. Last year, the Dukes were 12-19 and Pitt defeated the by only 14. This season, Duquesne is much improved and already 10-4. The Panthers had little trouble with them, winning by 21.

Even the statement losses weren't comparable. Like this year with the Purdue game, the Panthers failed their biggest out of conference test, losing by 17 on a neutral court to No. 15 San Diego State in 2014. This year, Pitt lost to No. 11 Purdue by 13 and the game was much closer as the Panthers trailed by only six points with under three minutes to play. In the same point in the San Diego State contest, the Panthers were being routed by 24 before closing fast to make the score a little more respectable. Yes, Pitt got the Purdue game at home but they were far more competitive in this year's game against arguably a better team.

The loss against Indiana gave the Panthers three non-conference losses last season to only one this year.

When you add it all up, the scoring margin provides some more statistical proof that the Panthers had an easier time of things as well. When you count both the wins and losses, last year Pitt outscored their opponents by an average of about eight points per game out of conference. This year, that number has spiked to over 23 and the team even ranks No. 4 in the nation in that category. You can't always take that number and get a good indication of which team is better since much of it depends on the competition. But even without the canceled Gonzaga game, the two schedules look pretty similar as a whole. Pitt did play a couple more teams from power conferences last season, but only played one ranked team in each season and the schedule wasn't wildly more difficult, if at all - certainly not to the point where it would account for that big of a difference in the scoring margin.

We don't yet know just how good this year's team is over last season. But when you look at what they've done in the non-conference part of the schedule, we can at least say that they are a better team this year and the Panthers performed much better against non-ACC teams.

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