It’s been a long time since the Pitt Panthers played a meaningful game at the end of January, but that’s certainly the case tonight.
Pitt enters tonight’s matchup against Wake Forest with an overall record of 13-7, 6-3 in conference play.
The Panthers have gotten the attention of basketball fans in the city, many of whom have paid little to no attention to them for the last few years.
People are paying attention because of the positive results on the court. Let’s be honest, not many people were projecting Jeff Capel’s squad to be in this position. Playing the underdog role, this team has played hard, played well, and frankly, is overachieving.
At the start of the season, the ACC media predicted Pitt to finish near the bottom in the ACC preseason poll, and to this point, they’ve gotten that wrong in a big way.
Not only is Pitt winning but they’ve put themselves in a position to be one of the 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament, something that hasn’t happened since the 2015-16 season.
Entering tonight’s game, all of the major national bracketologists have Pitt slotted to be in the tournament. I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around and continually writing about Pitt possibly being in March Madness, funnily enough.
While that’s certainly something to be excited about, by no means is that a lock.
They’re being projected to be a tournament team today, but Pitt is also close to being on the outside looking in.
Every one of the bracketologists have Pitt as either a No. 10 or a No. 11 seed, which doesn’t give them much margin for error.
The only way to improve on that is to keep stacking wins, especially against teams that could also be on the bubble, like tonight’s opponent Wake Forest.
The Deamon Deacons are 14-6, and like Pitt, 6-3 in conference action. Not only does Pitt have to beat teams with common records, but they’ll also need to earn a couple of “signature” wins.
While they were able to beat North Carolina, Virginia and Syracuse, they let a couple of marquee wins slip away, blowing second half leads against Duke and first-place Clemson. Hopefully, that doesn’t come back to haunt them.
Looking at the upcoming schedule, Saturday’s matchup against Miami would be really big, as would sweeping North Carolina, whom they play again on Feb. 1.
While these final 11 games will certainly be nerve-wracking for the Pitt players and Pitt fans, it’s also going to be awesome to be watching games that matter so late in the season.
This Pitt team has shown that they have the ability to compete and beat any team in the ACC, the question now is whether or not they will be able to do it with the intense pressure of playing for a bid to March Madness on the line.
I’m not going to say that tonight’s game is a must-win, but I am going to say that a win tonight would eliminate some upcoming pressure and put them one game closer to hearing their name called on Selection Sunday.