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With NCAA hopes on bubble, Pitt men treating Clemson as must-win

| Thursday, March 6, 2014, 10:42 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Cameron Wright scores past Syracuse's Michael Gbinje in the second half Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, at Petersen Events Center.

Jamie Dixon hasn't had to spell out a doomsday scenario for Pitt entering its season finale Saturday at Clemson.

The Panthers are well aware that their hopes of earning an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament could hinge on whether they win or lose.

“We know what we've got to do,” Dixon said. “I'm sure they look at all the seedings and RPI — I know they do — and (see) it's obvious we need to go and play well and win.”

When Pitt (22-8, 10-7) visits Clemson (19-10, 10-7) at 4 p.m. Saturday for its last ACC game this season, the outcome also will dictate where the teams now tied for fifth place will be seeded for the conference tournament next week in Greensboro, N.C.

Pitt can clinch anywhere from the No. 5 to No. 7 seed in the ACC tourney, depending upon whether it beats Clemson and the result of the Florida State-Syracuse game.

“It's huge,” Pitt redshirt junior shooting guard Cameron Wright said. “Obviously, we're in a must-win situation, so we know we need to go down there and win this ballgame.”

The Panthers were considered an NCAA lock before losing four of their past six games and six of their past eight, including losses to Florida State and N.C. State at Petersen Events Center.

They have slipped to where bracketologists Joe Lunardi of ESPN and Jerry Palm of CBS Sports both have Pitt pegged as a No. 10 seed.

Lunardi projects the Panthers playing Massachusetts in the East Region in Buffalo, and Palm predicts Pitt will play Iowa in the South Region in Orlando.

“We're well aware of the predicament we put ourselves in,” Wright said. “It's March Madness for a reason. Every team, at some time in their school history, has to play this role. Unfortunately, it's us this year. We just have to get it done.”

Pitt has qualified for the NCAA tourney 11 times in the past 12 seasons, with the 2011-12 team the only one not to receive a bid. The Panthers never have been in this position under Dixon, where their NCAA bid depended upon winning the season finale.

Dixon has made it clear that the standard at Pitt is to expect to win every game, regardless of what's on the line.

“No matter where you are, we've been doing this a long time, and there's never a time where you didn't go into your last game where you didn't have to win,” Dixon said. “That hasn't changed. There'd maybe be times when we talk about it even though we were probably in and it was doomsday. We've had that question asked, but we were probably safely in.”

Only two years removed from winning the CBI, Pitt understands the consequences.

“You've got to win no matter what,” Dixon said. “There's not much separation. We've got to win, and you've got to win the next game after that and the next game after that.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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