Down To The Wire

Over the past three days, Pitt has seen a two-game lead in the Big East standings, dwindle to just a half-game lead. Even more confusing to the Big East basketball fan, are all the scenarios involved in terms of who will finish in first-place, or who will get one of the two double-bye spots remaining.

Thanks to Notre Dame's impressive 93-72 win over Villanova at home, they closed to within a half-game behind the first-place Pitt Panthers in the Big East standings. Even before the win, Pitt and Notre Dame were still the only Big East teams to at least clinch a double-bye for next week's Big East Tournament. The Panthers, however, still have their sights set on that first-place finish, heading into New York.

"We need two wins in the conference," senior Gary McGhee said. "Right now, we're focusing on the South Florida game, going down there and hopefully we'll come up with the win, one step closer to the championship."

With that Notre Dame win, McGhee is right—Pitt needs a win Wednesday and a win Saturday to clinch first-place. Notre Dame's next game is Saturday at UConn, which will be played at 2 pm. By the time the Pitt seniors are honored as part of the annual Senior Day festivities, they might have a better idea of fate, but even that won't be determined until the outcome of Pitt's game with South Florida on Wednesday.

One thing is for sure. Pitt's magic number is still at two, meaning any combination of Pitt wins and Notre Dame losses that equal two, gives Pitt first-place. Pitt could win Wednesday, cutting it down to one. They could then clinch it with a Notre Dame loss, or have their backs up against the wall against Villanova with a Notre Dame win.

In any event, here's a closer look at all the scenarios:

- The best, and most clear road for Pitt at this point, is to go 2-0 this week against South Florida and Villanova. By doing that, they clinch first-place regardless of what Notre Dame does on Saturday. More importantly, they don't have to worry about what other teams do, or have to depend on anyone for help.

- It starts to get confusing if Notre Dame loses Saturday, and Pitt goes 1-1 this week, believe it or not. Still, if that happens, the Panthers still get the No. 1 seed for the Big East Tournament next week, with Notre Dame getting the No. 2 seed. As for timing, the pressure on players and fans in this scenario would be polar opposites. Pitt can lose Wednesday, have Notre Dame lose, then have the eyes of the world on the Petersen Events Center for the game against Villanova. Or, Pitt could win Wednesday, Notre Dame could lose on Saturday, and even before the Pitt seniors are introduced on Senior Day, there could be a meaningless game between Pitt and Villanova—if such a thing has ever happened.

- On the heels of that last scenario, here's where it starts to get unfortunate if you're Pitt. Pitt goes 1-1 this week, and Notre Dame wins at UConn Saturday. That means both teams finish with a conference record of 14-4. With Notre Dame's 56-51 win over the Panthers on January 24, the Irish get the tie-breaker. That would also end Pitt's hope of a number-one seed. The only thing that could get the Panthers back into that conversation would be a dominant sweep through the Big East Tournament. The only good news, is that Pitt keeps a firm hold on second-place in the Big East, regardless of what Louisville and St. John's do this week.

- The worst possibility would be Pitt going 0-2 this week, completely eliminating them from a first-place finish. With Pitt losing to Notre Dame, Louisville and St. John's, all three hold tiebreakers over Pitt. The Panthers would need help. With Notre Dame already having one win this week, Pitt would then need Louisville and St. John's to both go at least 1-1, to hold on to second place.

- Here's one more wrench to the final standings. Syracuse is the next team to be able to clinch a two-day bye. They can't pass Pitt in the standings with the Panthers holding the tie-breaker over them. They can, however, pass Notre Dame, since they hold the tie-breaker with a win over the Irish and St. John's.

Keep in mind the rest of the teams involved. Here's a look at the leaders in the Big East standings—all the teams that are in contention for a double-bye. Pitt and Notre Dame have clinched. Here's a look at what's at stake for the teams:

PITT (13-3)
Wednesday at USF 9 pm
Saturday vs. Villanova 4 pm

Saturday at UConn, 2 pm

Wednesday vs. Providence, 7 pm
Saturday at West Virginia, Noon

- Can go 2-0 or 1-1 regardless of what Syracuse and St. John's do, and still get a double-bye

- If the Cardinals go 0-2 this week, they need a Syracuse loss and St. John's to lose both games this week to get the double-bye.

- If the Cardinals go 2-0, combined with two Pitt losses, and a Notre Dame loss on Saturday, they clinch a three-way tie for first-place.

St. John's (11-5)
Thursday at Seton Hall, 7 pm
Saturday vs. USF 8 pm

- It's all or nothing for St. John's. The Red Storm needs to win both games to get a double-bye. If they do, regardless of whether Louisville goes 2-0 or 1-1, the Red Storm gets a double-bye.

- If St. John's goes 1-1 this week, they need either Louisville to lose both games this week or Syracuse to lose Saturday since both respective teams hold tie-breakers over the Red Storm.

- If Pitt loses both games this week, Notre Dame loses Saturday, Louisville goes 2-0 and St. John's goes 2-0, there will be a four-way tie for first-place.

Saturday vs. DePaul

- Right now, the Orange is on the outside looking in, in terms of a double-bye. All they have to do is win Saturday, and they could jump three spots in the standings, with a little help.

- With a win Saturday, Syracuse needs St. John's to go 1-1 this week, to clinch a double-bye.

- If Louisville goes 0-2 this week, and St. John's goes 1-1, Syracuse will finish in third place.

With less than a week into the final week of the Big East regular season, Pitt's mission is simple this week—just win out. With all the scenarios involved, it's the one least confusing.

"We just have to go out there and focus on just winning one game at a time," senior Brad Wanamaker said. "Just go out here and handle business with South Florida, and business with Villanova."

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