The Pitt women’s volleyball team will host Iona tonight in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. It’s kind of a shame but they’ll be competing for attention this weekend. The men’s basketball team has a game against Duquesne at the same time and, should the volleyball team advance, they’ll be on during the football team’s ACC title game.
That’s sort of an interesting theme as the volleyball team enters the tournament somewhat disrespected. Despite an incredible 29-1 record, Pitt is ranked a modest No. 11 in the nation. The Panthers have been downgraded in the rankings most of the year by comparison and another example of that was seen this week as the team actually dropped a spot in the rankings, despite sweeping Georgia Tech 3-0 in their only match. How you fall in the rankings when you sweep a match is beyond me but that’s the kind of hot garbage they’ve been up against from voters most of this year, despite an RPI of No. 7 in the nation.
I’m done complaining about the rankings and trying to justify the nonsensical actions of the voters, though. And the reality is that none of that matters at this point.
To gain respect, fairly or unfairly, Pitt has to take care of business here. And that means not only defeating Iona tonight but also defeating a pretty decent Michigan team, who they are likely to face in the second round. The Panthers will have little room to complain about future rankings if they lose either match and, as I wrote on Twitter in the aftermath of the tournament selection show, Pitt absolutely has to get past the opening weekend this year and find their way into the Sweet 16. It’s kind of hard to be upset about all the fawning over the Big Ten if the ACC champion is unable to beat that conference’s seventh-best team while playing on their home court, no less.
Let’s be pretty clear here - both of these matches are must haves, in my opinion.
Obviously, if the team only gets to the Sweet 16, there will be a lot of disappointment from the players. They surely want to go further. But a Sweet 16 is the next step in the progression of the program and that’s really a bare minimum of what this team needs to do. A Sweet 16 exit, while disappointing, would at least get the team over a hump they’ve not accomplished under head coach Dan Fisher. An early exit wouldn’t exactly indicate that the year was a wasted one. But when you go 29-1, you at least want to get past the opening weekend. This team is well equipped to do that and I expect they will.
That starts with the match tonight against a solid Iona team that finished the year 20-7. Iona isn’t bad but this is a match that Pitt has no business losing. Iona hasn’t played any currently ranked teams from what I can see on their schedule and still has seven losses playing in the MAAC. The Gaels have a solid record but if Pitt loses this one, something will have gone horribly wrong. That isn’t to suggest they can’t go through the motions and expect to win. But if the Panthers play their game, this is not a match they should lose.
Play begins at 7:00 p.m. and will be on WatchESPN. If you’re not heading down to the Pete to check out the action, you can use this forum to comment during the match.