At 15-12, many have written of Pitt as a contender for the NCAA Tournament. But the Panthers have also won three of their past four games and with a victory against No. 17 Florida State, have added another quality win to their resume.
Pitt senior Sheldon Jeter had a monster game with a career-best 29 in that 14-point win against the Seminoles. And according to him, the NIT isn't in the team's plans just yet.
"We're playing to get into the [NCAA] Tournament," Jeter said. "We still believe in each other and the team. It doesn't matter if other people don't believe in us. We believe in ourselves and we believe that we can still make it. We haven't given up hope, or said we'll go play in the NIT [Tournament]. We still believe we can get into the [NCAA] Tournament."
Sure, there's a hint of 'what do you want him to say' about that. And if he had said the team is just hoping to make the NIT, he would be killed for that. But it also serves as a reminder that the Panthers aren't yet completely out of things.
Make no mistake about it - the team needs a lot of help. Only four games remain and three of them are on the road. A fourth is against No. 10 North Carolina. In terms of 'gimmes', there really aren't any. And while the game at Wake Forest might be the most winnable, the Demon Deacons are 15-12 - the record same as Pitt.
As I said Saturday, I believe that the team probably needs some combination of at least five wins to have a shot at getting in. And to me, losing only once more might be the Panthers' only option. That would mean either running the table in these last four regular season games or winning at least three and then winning the NCAA Tournament. That last option seems the more difficult one because teams will be playing even harder to win the conference championship and improve their own resume.
If the Panthers lose two more games, can they get in with 14 losses? Historically, it's not likely but it has happened. Several at-large teams have made it with that many and at least two (Arizona in 2008 and Michigan in 2011, according to this site) even had 18-14 records. Pitt probably doesn't get in with only an 18-14 record but at least there's precedent there.
A somewhat realistic path for Pitt would be winning three of the next four games and then winning two more in the ACC Tournament. That gets them to 20-14 and since it would mean defeating either Virginia or North Carolina in the regular season, would give them at least one more high-quality win. 19-14 doesn't 100% mean they're out but you have to think their chances are significantly lower.
But even in the 14-loss scenario, there's also the idea that Pitt's resume isn't terribly strong. They haven't beaten a Top 5 team or anything. And while they have a few nice wins, it's not as if they've beaten great team after great team. They also have a terrible loss to Duquesne and while committee members may take into account that Jamel Artis didn't play, it's still a bad loss. They also have several head-to-head losses against teams like Virginia Tech, Miami, and Syracuse (with whom they split) that are all playing to get in as well. Also, we have to account for things like conference tournament upsets where some mid-major conferences steal an extra bid if a lower-ranked team wins their tournament, etc.
In other words, 13, not 14, might be the most acceptable number for the Panthers. And, of course, even that's no guarantee.
And don't even consider a 2-2 split in the regular season. That gives them 15 losses, looks incredibly damaging, and means that they need to win the ACC Tournament to get in.
A couple of Panthers, alluded to effort in the post-game press conference on Saturday. Jamel Artis was one of them. "We can play against any team in the ACC," the senior said. "It just depends on whether or not we show up to play that day." At this point, the Panthers don't have much room for margin and showing up to play is no longer an option.
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 and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.