Pitt's Terrible Loss Puts Them On the Wrong Side of the Bubble

Photo Credit: USA Today

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Going into last night's game, the Pitt Panthers were in the NCAA Tournament pool.  Joe Lunardi, who has a very good batting average when it comes to predicting teams in the tournament, said that Pitt just had to win one more game and they were definitely in "the Big Dance".  That meant they needed to beat either a 10-19 Notre Dame squad on the road, a 23-6 Miami team, also on the road, or a game in the ACC Tournament.  Hopefully, the ACC Tournament for Pitt will begin in the 3rd round, but they are now at risk of losing the double bye.

Out of those three games, potentially more if Pitt wins in their first game of the ACC Tournament, the easiest win was clearly against Notre Dame.  Not only have the Irish been terrible overall this season, but they came into last night's game 2-16 in conference play.  It should have been an easy win.  

However, as Pitt fans, we know that if anyone is going to lay an egg in the most important game they've played in six seasons, it would be Pitt.  The phrase "Pitt'ing" exists for a reason.  Plus, long-time Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey was coaching in his last game at home.  

Sure enough, Pitt laid an egg.  The Panthers lost 88-81.  While the final score was just a 7 point differential, Pitt played their worst game in months and the final score should have been a lot worse.  The 1st half was potentially their worst half played the entire season.  They could not make anything from 3, their bread and butter, and their defense was non-existent.  They also took two technical fouls, one on Blake Hinson for swearing (insert as many eye roll emojis as you'd like here), and one was called on the bench.  

Pitt was shooting 36.4% from the field and were 3 for 15 from behind the arc going into halftime.  They had also missed 4 of their 5 free throws.  Meanwhile, they allowed the Irish to make 51.9% of their field goals in the first half and they were 7 for 15 from three.  They had also made 7 of their 8 free throws.  Brutally poor half for the Panthers.

Pitt played better in the 2nd half, beating the Irish 53-46, but it wasn't enough to overcome a 14-point halftime deficit.  They improved upon their shooting, bringing their field goal percentage and 3-Point % up to 44.3% and 31.8% respectively, but they still failed to make free throws.  They ended the game 20-36.  Make 10 of those 16 misses and you win the game.  

So now what does this mean for Pitt's tournament chances?  Well, the final regular season game for the Panthers is now traveling to play the 16th ranked Miami Hurricanes in the Watsco Center.  Every road game in conference is tough, but Miami is especially good at home this season winning 15 of 16.  Pitt also just barely beat Miami at the Pete, and it took an unprecedented effort to come back in that game.  I can't find a current line for the game, but I would expect Miami to be favored somewhere in the range of 8-10 points.  Especially after the terrible performance Pitt logged last night. 

Assuming Pitt loses the game on Saturday, the Panthers now have to win a game in the ACC Tournament.  If they receive the double bye, they will be most likely be playing a team in the top half of the conference.  If the standings hold as they are today, with Pitt as the 3-seed (which could obviously change a lot by the end of Saturday) they could be playing NC State in the third round.  NC State may have lost to Pitt earlier this season, but they have been playing well as of late.  They are certainly not a pushover.  

In fact, whatever team Pitt plays in the third round of the ACC Tournament will have earned it, so cannot be considered a pushover.  It begs the question as to whether we even want Pitt to get the double bye, or potentially face an easier opponent in the second round.    

Putting that into perspective, Pitt now faces two much more difficult games than last night's matchup.  And they need to win one of them, according to Joe Lunardi.  This, to me, puts them on the wrong side of the bubble.  They now face two tough games, one that Pitt will be a major underdog and another, in the ACC Tournament, where anything can happen.  So Pitt is at major risk of losing both games and missing the tournament.  

Stating the obvious, but it would feel like a major disappointment to miss the Tournament at this point.  And with several high impact players graduating, and the risk every offseason now of losing guys to the transfer portal, who knows what this team will look like next season.  

That is the nature of the new college sports NIL system.  You have to live in the now.  A program or two could come knocking with huge offers for the Diaz-Graham twins, Fede Federiko, or any of the returning Panthers.  College sports has to be taken one season at a time.  And the Panthers have now put themselves in a position where they could be ending this season in disappointing fashion.