The No. 18 Pitt volleyball team dominated another week of competition, defeating all three of its opponents. The Panthers are now 14-4 on the season.
Pitt first swept West Virginia at home in the middle of the week, 3-0. They then hosted No. 25 Florida State on Friday, winning 3-1, and hosted North Carolina on Sunday, winning 3-0. The lone set that the Panthers lost to the Seminoles was an ugly 25-14 loss in Set 3, but it was the lone weakness for the team. And while North Carolina is not ranked, that was a quality win for the team as the Tar Heels are 10-6 on the year.
Despite the strong weekend, the Panthers are not steadily climbing in the rankings, moving up only a single spot this week to No. 18. The team is a solid No. 20 in the RPI, though, and while I cannot find week by week RPI rankings, I believe that is a decent jump up in recent weeks. Beating Florida State certainly helped since the 12-5 Seminoles are rated No. 13 in the RPI.
When it comes to tournament talk, the Panthers have a strong case. Fewer spots are available this year with a 48-team tournament and Pitt is unlikely to win the conference with only two matches left while trailing a few teams in the ACC standings (there is no ACC Tournament). But Pitt has certainly shown itself worthy. The Panthers have not lost all spring and have now won ten matches in a row. They are not only the hottest team in the ACC but one of the hottest in the country. And if the Panthers win their final two matches against Clemson and Virginia Tech (both have losing records), they will look even more deserving.
I’m curious to see if the Panthers’ past NCAA Tournament failures will impact the decision to put them in. As I’ve said in past years with the basketball team, a team’s previous performance in earlier tournaments shouldn’t have any bearing on their seeding or the decision to put them into a current tournament. There’s no doubt that the Panthers have underperformed in past tournaments but, should the team win out, I’m not sure how you keep a top 20 ranked team that is on the roll that the Panthers are out of the tournament.
The better ‘argument,’ as I’ve said, is simply that no team should be judged based on the performance of past teams. But let’s talk about the team’s most recent performances, because that’s relevant, too.
Much is always made of how basketball teams finish the season in terms of who gets into the tournament and who is left out. And if the same emphasis to that is given in volleyball, Pitt should benefit from that. The team’s two problem areas were losses to Syracuse but those were the Panthers’ first two games of the season while the team was still sorting out its lineup. Since then, they split with ranked Louisville and Notre Dame teams while also beating ranked Georgia Tech and Florida State teams — along with defeating everyone else.
It’s not just that the team is winning, either — it’s how they’re winning. In the Panthers’ ten matches this spring, they’ve dominated the competition, sweeping six of their opponents and losing a total of only five sets. Duke was the only team to take Pitt to five sets all spring.
Again, this is probably all contingent on beating Clemson and Virginia Tech to finish out the season. Losing even just one of those opens up a whole new can of worms. But if they do, any case to leave the Panthers out based on the way they are playing seems like a poor one. Pitt has been too dominant since their opening games.