With the 2015 NCAA Tournament only weeks away, Pitt Panthers fans are left wondering if the Panthers will be dancing when the tournament field is announced in March.
With the likes of Virginia, Duke, Louisville, Notre Dame and North Carolina all locks to be in the field of 68, there are a couple questions that will need to be answered the final few weeks of the regular season.
Those questions being: Who will be the ACC’s sixth team in the tournament, and does the ACC even deserve six teams?
On paper coming into the season, with the strength of the ACC being one of the premier basketball conferences on the planet, one would think that we would be talking about seven or eight teams making the tournament.
That hasn’t been the case though as after the top five teams in the conference, the ACC has turned out to be pretty mediocre in the middle and at the bottom.
But there is a chance for a sixth team and the Panthers are definitely in that mix.
With that being said, let’s take a look at how the three contenders for a potential sixth berth from the ACC stack up against each other.
Pitt (17-10, 6-7 ACC, RPI-45, SOS-24): Wins against both North Carolina and Notre Dame certainly help the Panthers’ resume and while a win at Virginia on Monday likely would have sealed the deal for Pitt, it doesn’t necessarily hurt their chances either.
The problem Pitt faces in putting together a tournament worth resume is that they have only four Top-100 wins all season long. That’s actually hard to do this late in the season, especially playing in the ACC.
Even worse news for the Panthers is that they only have two more opportunities this season to gain Top-100 wins (at Syracuse and home vs. Miami).
While the wins vs. ND and UNC look nice this late in the season, they don’t completely offset some bad losses by this Pitt team, most notably against Hawaii and Virginia Tech.
Another big negative for the Panthers has been their play away from the Petersen Events Center. On the year Pitt is only 3-8 on the road this season and only one of those was a conference win, an overtime victory against Boston College.
The likely scenario for the Panthers to make the tourney is a 5-0 finish down the stretch and a couple of ACC Tournament victories.
That alone is easier said than done.
Miami (16-9, 6-6, RPI-61, SOS-70): The Hurricanes have a big win on their resume against Duke, but also have some terrible losses, most recently to Wake Forest.
Miami also needed double overtime to get past Boston College on Monday, a win that doesn’t necessarily pass the eye test.
The Canes RPI and strength of schedule numbers are fairly weak, so it should take a big effort the final six games of the season for the Canes to get off the bubble.
The likely scenario is Miami will have to beat North Carolina, Louisville and Pitt to get in.
North Carolina State (15-11, 6-7, RPI-47, SOS-2): If there were a leader in the clubhouse right now for the ACC’s sixth tournament berth, it very well may be the Wolfpack.
Not only do they have a win against Duke, but they are coming off a win on Saturday against Louisville, which is about as good of a February win that a bubble team could ask for.
Prior to that NC State had lost five of six, but that win alone gets them back in the conversation to go dancing.
However it is going to take much more than that for the Wolfpack to get in and with only five games remaining in the regular season, it may be a tall mountain to climb.
NC State likely has to go 5-0 down the stretch and the road to doing so isn’t that difficult, having to play only one ranked team (at North Carolina).
If they do, the Wolfpack have a decent RPI and solid strength of schedule number that could get them in.
Verdict: Neither of the three teams on the bubble have done enough to show that they can finish the season by running the table, or at least coming close to doing so.
That alone could leave all three teams on the outside looking in, meaning the ACC will get only five teams come March.
If I had to make a prediction now, and that could change on almost a daily basis the rest of the way, I would give the nod to the Wolfpack as NC State would make it over Pitt.
If Pitt gets hot and maybe wins 4-of-5 and gets to the ACC Tournament semifinals, they obviously leapfrog the Wolfpack, but for now I am giving North Carolina State a slight advantage to make the tournament as perhaps an 11 or 12 seed.
Photo Credit: Associated Press