On paper, Wednesday night's game isn't a must win for Pitt.
However, any game that any team has in the midst of a three-game losing streak is a must-win.
Though it would be nice to think of, Pitt needs to finish out these last four regular season games with a 4-0 record. Every team in America needs to finish out that way, or aims to finish out that way. At the very least, 3-1.
That once didn't look like too daunting a task. Boston College did the unthinkable last Wednesday, knocking off then No. 1 Syracuse. The Eagles proved anything is possible. The loss won't affect Syracuse's chances of making the tournament. It might affect their shot at a No. 1 seed. A loss by the Panthers, doesn't help matters that much. Pitt would be 20-8 overall. Still a decent overall record, but an 8-7 conference record puts them in a tie in the standings with Clemson.
While it's hard to predict what is going to happen over the next week and a half, it's safe to say that fifth place in the ACC will be decided on March 9 when Pitt travels to Clemson. If it's decided before then, that really doesn't help Pitt either way. Pitt needs that last game to count, allowing them to carry momentum into the ACC tournament.
Let's not take the N.C. State game for granted, either. N.C. State is the regular season home finale on Monday. The Wolfpack has North Carolina at home on Wednesday night, Miami on Saturday. Both games are at home. In a worst-case scenario, for Pitt, if N.C. State wins both of those games, that sends them to Pittsburgh next Monday with a 19-10 overall record, 9-7 in the conference. Just to stay ahead of that pace, Pitt needs to treat these next two games as must-win situations.
Again, every team in the country would love to finish a season 4-0. If Pitt experiences a loss in any of the game, it makes things more difficult in the standings. Furthermore, playing the two teams it needs to separate itself from in the standings the most--Clemson and N.C. State--either it's all in, or not. Pitt is in sole possession of fifth place in the conference for the moment.
Interestingly, Pitt could probably still go 2-2 in these final two games. If those two wins were against Clemson and N.C. State, it would clinch fifth place in the ACC for the Panthers. However, regardless of a fifth-place finish, would the Committee take a team with losses to 7-20 Boston College and 14-14 Notre Dame this late in the season.
I'll say it again, Pitt needs to finish 4-0. They may not have a signature win this season. If they finish 4-0, separating themselves from Clemson and N.C. State, and beat Boston College--a win on the road over the team who beat Syracuse on the road--shakes up the RPI ratings a little. It should sum up Pitt's tournament chances. However, don't expect a seeding in the single-digits, unless there's two more wins in the ACC Tournament.
* Aside from conference standings, it's ashame that Pitt isn't able to capitalize on what we're seeing from Cameron Wright at this stage of the season.
It seems at any point this season, for Pitt to win, the Panthers need a big game from both Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna. Lately, over this latest seven-game stretch, they're getting a big performance from one or the other.
Sunday's loss was a head scratcher in a lot of ways. Granted, Patterson's three-pointers came after the game was out of reach for Pitt in the second half. Wright still finished with 12. Wright has shot at least 37.5 % or better from the field in 12 of Pitt's 14 ACC games this season. Those two games where he didn't were the first two--N.C. State and Maryland--both Pitt wins. Zanna finished with 14 rebounds on Sunday, as Pitt outrebounded Florida State.
It seem Pitt needs another big-play threat to go along with Patterson and Zanna, as long as both of them are clicking on all cylinders. It would seem Wright is a good choice for that. However, based on wins and losses, Pitt wins when Wright doesn't shoot well. That doesn't add up at all.
* Maybe it's a three-point shooter in the form of James Robinson, who had two on Sunday. Robinson has four games this season where he's hit two or more three-pointers. Three of those games have come in the last four. Pitt has gone 1-2 in those games, so that doesn't add up either.
One thing missing significantly is another rebounder. Someone to help, or even compliment Zanna. Zanna is averaging 8.1 rebounds a game. Second-best on the team is Patterson and Mike Young, both tied with 4.6 rebounds a game.
It's too much to ask of Patterson to up the rebounding. If anything, that puts more unnecessary weight on the shoulders of these two. Young is an option. However, his rebounding average is accumulated in an average of ten less minutes per game played than Zanna.
Does Dixon play Young more, at the risk as taking away Jamel Artis' minutes? Or, does he play Derrick Randall more than both of them to gain an edge in rebounding, while completely scrapping the stretch four idea for Artis and Young? Maybe not, being that Randall is only getting 9.6 minutes a game, averaging 2.8 rebounds a game in that stretch.
Maybe it's up to these three specifically to add another dimension to the inside game. Who says it has to be about rebounding? As we saw Sunday, Pitt can still lose by outrebounding someone. If could be, but we won't know until we see it consistently.