Pitt’s volleyball team capped an incredible regular season on Saturday with a three-set sweep of Virginia. The victory gives the Panthers a 25-6 overall record and an 18-2 record in the ACC, good for a conference title.
The Panthers are technically co-champions with Louisville, who also was 18-2 in the ACC this year. In addition, the Cardinals hold the tie-breaker (via their head-to-head win over Pitt earlier this year) to gain the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. But the Panthers still are recognized as a conference champion and, hey look, here’s a trophy.
Pitt was again dominant this weekend as they have been for most of the season. Since dropping a five-set match on the road against Louisville back in October, the Panthers have won nine straight matches and seven of those have been shutouts. They swept both Virginia Tech and Virginia this weekend, winning both matches, 3-0.
Pitt’s wins this year as a whole have been easy as the Panthers have shut out 17 teams. Only one win all season, in fact, went to five sets. In other words, nearly every Pitt win has been a dominant one.
The frustrating thing about the co-ACC title is that the Panthers were nearly outright champions. Louisville needed to win on Friday against Syracuse and found themselves on the verge of being upset, trailing two sets to none. They rallied, though, and took the next three sets. Had they lost that match, Pitt would have won the ACC title outright.
The co-championship is great, of course. But Louisville’s win over Pitt to earn the NCAA Tournament berth could make things interesting. At 25-6 and co-champion, I expect the Panthers will get into the NCAAs. But Pitt was also 25-6 back in 2014 and was kept out.
The good news for this year’s team is that they have a lot more going for them. First, they have the recent history of getting into the tournament and making some noise. Last year’s team got in with nine losses and defeated a ranked Dayton team before losing to Penn State in the second round. Next, this year’s team avoided the crippling losses the 2014 team suffered. Pitt’s six losses this year were all to pretty good teams - three are ranked and a fourth nearly is. The team’s worst loss is to NC State, who was 20-11 on the season and near the top of the ACC themselves. And finally, they have the ACC co-championship this year. In 2014, the team was good but still had five conference losses.
The part about the bad losses is really key. You can still get into the NCAA Tournament without statement wins but, as that 2014 team found out, it’s hard to get in when you don’t have that and you have some bad losses to boot. That year, the Panthers didn’t have any statement wins but also dropped two matches to Virginia Tech, who was barely over .500 at 17-14. If you’re looking for the biggest culprit as to why that team didn’t get in, it’s likely those matches.
Like I said, Pitt has been left out before with this exact same record but this Panthers team is different from that one. I would be surprised if they were left out this season. As of last week, the team’s RPI was No. 26 in the nation and I believe it was significantly lower in 2014. With 64 teams getting in, it would seem unlikely that you can leave that high of a team out. The RPI could actually slip a little since the team’s wins this weekend were over pretty bad teams (No. 188 and No. 190) but it still should be strong enough.
The Panthers will find out what happens next on Sunday night during the selection show, which you can see on ESPNU at 9:00 p.m.