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Boys on the Bubble

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Bubble talk? Pitt? On Feb. 6th? Purely nonsense, right?

The very phrase “on the fence” usually seems inconceivable around these parts when it comes to the NCAA Tournament, especially when you’re boasting 17 wins and still a month away from the dance, but in the Pitt basketball team’s case, the term certainly applies this year.

With its 64-50 drubbing by No. 9 Virginia on Saturday, the Panthers found their resume floating adrift with maybe it’s only true anchors coming from road wins in South Bend and Tallahassee. Considering who they have played and beaten thus far, it’s not much impressive.

Now 0-3 versus Top 25 opponents this year, Pitt boasts a strength of schedule at 83, despite playing in one of the toughest conferences in the country. When you look past ACC play, you’ll find the Panthers’ out of conference schedule ranked in bottom tier among power six schools, boasting wins against Central Arkansas (3-15), Western Carolina (8-15) and lowly subdivision Saint Joseph’s College.

The team currently stands at 34 in the RPI, and were considered a 6 seed according to Jerry Palm prior to the weekend loss to Virginia.

“You are who you are and you are the team you just played. Today we are a team that is 14 points behind Virginia,” said coach Jamie Dixon. “One game doesn’t define your season, but we got what we deserved.”

Dixon’s concern seems to peak at the defensive front, where his Panthers are middle of the road in the ACC, giving up just over 42 percent shooting from the field, and 66 points per game.

“I was concerned in October and November and December,” Dixon said of his defense. “It’s no secret; it comes out in losses. We have to get better.”

The road ahead for Dixon’s Panthers is a daunting one.  With rugged road trips to North Carolina, Syracuse and Miami, Pitt will also host Louisville and Duke to round out what should be a very eventful—and very telling—final stretch.

Making sense out of a comfortable ride through March would consist of the Panthers winning at least two of those five coming matchups, but so far there have not been a lot of reasons to feel like such a stretch is forthcoming – though don’t tell Pitt’s biggest star that.

“We’re a good team. We’re fine. We just have to show it,” said Jamel Artis Saturday. “We can say that we’re a good team, but it doesn’t mean nothing if we don’t prove it on the court.”

So far, Pitt hasn’t proved it. Until that time comes, this team is simply on the outside looking in, and the NCAA committee already knows it.

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