Victory over Virginia could boost Pitt's prospects
Jamie Dixon knows Virginia runs an offense with similar sets and plays defense with familiar principles, but what the Pitt coach knows most about the Panthers' next opponent is its ACC record and standing.
“We know that they're 7-1, a game ahead of us for second place, and we're right behind them,” Dixon said. “They've played well, and they've gotten better as the year went on.”
Not only does Virginia (16-5, 7-1) stand ahead of Pitt (18-3, 6-2) in the conference standings, but it also represents something larger for the Panthers' postseason hopes entering their ACC game at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at Petersen Events Center.
Virginia is one of Pitt's two remaining foes with an RPI top 25 ranking and one of four ranked in the RPI top 50. The Panthers also play Syracuse on Feb. 12 at home. Syracuse, the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 poll, is sixth in the RPI.
The Cavaliers (No. 22 RPI) represent a chance for the Panthers to get their first signature victory, one that would improve their resume for NCAA Tournament seeding.
Dixon isn't dwelling on Pitt's lack of success against the RPI top 50, given the Panthers have beaten everyone ranked below them and lost only to three teams with RPI rankings in the top 25.
“This is an opportunity,” Dixon said. “We've lost to three really good teams. Our losses are to Cincinnati, Duke and Syracuse. I don't think anybody has three losses like that, and we've got 18 wins beside it. As coaches and media, we focus together on the losses and the 18 wins are forgotten, but we've put ourselves in a good position.”
Virginia is 0-2 against RPI top 25 teams (Duke, Wisconsin) and 3-4 against the top 50.
The Cavaliers swept their season series with Florida State and beat North Carolina, 76-61, on Jan. 20.
Besides Syracuse, only No. 42 North Carolina, which Pitt visits Feb. 15, and No. 32 Florida State, which plays at the Pete on Feb. 23, have RPI rankings in the top 50. Pitt's lone win over an RPI top 50 team came Nov. 26, an 88-67 victory over Stanford.
“It is what it is,” Dixon said. “You've got to play the best you can, and as many of those games as you can. Would I rather have one of those and 15 wins? No. If that's the substitute, then we've got to continue to do what we did. We lost to three really good teams. That's where we're at. You can only have 21 games at this point. You can't add anyone else in there. That's who we are and what we've done.
“You can't go back. We can go forward, and that's what we're looking to do. We've got to beat a good team, one that has a very good RPI and a very good basketball team who's playing their best basketball, as we have to.”
Pitt's 14-game home winning streak was snapped in an 80-65 loss to Duke on Monday.
“It's good to have those signature wins, but we've got to protect our home court,” Pitt sophomore point guard James Robinson said. “We can't let two games slide like that, especially on our home court.”