Fresh off a week that included a 65-64 win in North Carolina’s Dean Smith Center, the Pittsburgh Panthers have parlayed success in one of the most inhospitable ACC environments to move up in this week’s AP Poll. The Panthers received the fifth-most votes of any non-ranked team, earning them the unofficial title of #30 in the country.
The last time the Panthers graced the top 25 they were 14-1, ranked #20 after a strong start to the 2016 season, only to fall out after a loss to Louisville the next week. It’s been a long time since that moment, but the Panthers are on the cusp of a return.
Ranked in front of them in the “receiving votes” section (vote total in parentheses) are mid-major darling FAU (93), Duke (87), Auburn (65), and Clemson (31) while Pitt gathered 26 votes, up from nine last week.
The route to earning a spot in the poll is clear for the Panthers, and relatively easy (on paper). The Panther’s upcoming schedule consists of the entire bottom half of the ACC over the next seven games, which poses a win-loss scenario for the Panthers. If they keep winning, as they should, they’re bound to find themselves ranked within the next two weeks. However, a loss to one of the ACC bottom feeders is likely to tank any remaining poll chances the Panthers have.
When it comes to the team themselves, the Panthers are not concerned with the media’s perception of whether or not they’re a top-25 team. Coach Jeff Capel has reiterated throughout the season that rankings at this point in the season mean nothing, and he’d much rather be judged on where the Panthers finish the season as opposed to where they are in the midst of it.
OTHER NOTABLE RANKINGS:
College basketball Twitter celebrity and CBS Sports insider Jon Rothstein ranked the Panthers 26th in his weekly “Rothstein 45” installment, citing the best three-point performance of a Pitt team in the Capel era as his rationale. The NCAA’s Andy Katz ranked Pitt the highest of any major poll/reporter ranking, with the Panthers as high as 21st in the nation. This week’s edition of the coaches poll saw the Panthers sitting at 32nd, and I assume I’m not the only one curious to see the ballot of Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim after his less-than-tasteful comments about Panther basketball.
The Panthers are back in action tomorrow night for the ultimate trap game against Louisville, a game in which stepping on the court with them, regardless of the result, will likely negatively affect the Panthers’ Kenpom and NET rankings.