Strong finish needed to secure NCAA berth for Pitt

Kevin Gorman
| Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, 9:30 p.m.

Jamie Dixon could laugh when the NCAA Tournament was mentioned, knowing that by beating Boston College, Pitt already had passed one half of an unusual litmus test.

For the Panthers to clinch an NCAA berth for the 12th time in 13 years, they needed to beat the two worst teams remaining on their ACC regular-season schedule.

Pitt (21-7, 9-6) next plays at Notre Dame (15-14, 6-10) at 2 p.m. Saturday.

“It's funny. Every year at this time, no matter where you're at, you're always trying to get a higher seed or keep the one you're at,” Dixon said. “We've been going through that for years. It's a pretty normal time. You're always fighting to hang onto whatever seed you've got or whatever move to get into the tournament or hold onto a No. 1 seed.

“We've been in all different situations. That's what we've been battling. We understand that.”

CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm projects the Panthers as a No. 8 seed — same as last year — but considers Notre Dame a must-win game.

“Notre Dame is the worst team left,” Palm said Thursday. “I think it is, if they want to move up from where they are. A loss takes away the best thing you can say about Pitt.”

Which is that the Panthers don't have any bad losses. They are 0-6 against teams ranked in the top 25, with five of those defeats coming by a combined 15 points, yet have a 16.5-point average margin of victory and 15 double-digit wins.

Dixon calls Pitt's resume “unique.”

“We've lost to six teams in the top (20) or something,” he said. “It is interesting that we were in close games and that we won most of our other games by significant margins. There's plenty left to do. Winning the games you're supposed to is not always done. That's why teams that do that are rewarded.”

Dixon knows Pitt needs to finish strong after losing five of its past eight with three single-digit wins.

“We haven't played as good, there's no question,” Dixon said. “There's obvious reasons why. But, as I told our guys, why can't it be now?”

Palm believes Pitt's best chances to improve its seed is to win its remaining regular-season games, against Notre Dame, N.C. State and Clemson, and beat an NCAA Tournament-caliber team in the ACC tourney.

A 24-8 record got Pitt a No. 8 seed last year, but Palm says seeding is more about who the wins and losses come against.

“The more they win, the better their chances of getting a better seed,” Palm said. “There's no magic number. You don't control your destiny when it comes to seeding.”

There's one thing they can control.

“You just play and win, then figure out what all your winning did for you at the end,” Pitt fifth-year senior swingman Lamar Patterson said. “Right now, we just want to play and get the Ws. If that's what we get, we'll take it. If not, we'll take that, too.”

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