(Here is the Pitt basketball schedule story with quotes from Jamie Dixon. Looks like the quotes from Dixon were edited out in the story in the paper today and in the online version.)
Pitt unveiled its men’s basketball schedule Wednesday, and the two most important games of the season are in November.
It might sound crazy, but Pitt’s postseason chances could hinge on two games early-season games at the Petersen Events Center.
Here’s why. Pitt is in the preseason N.I.T., a win-and-advance tournament that does not guarantee opponents. It’s the only true in-season tournament.
The Panthers will play host to games Nov. 12 and 13. They must win those games to advance to the semifinal round of the event at Madison Square Garden, where they would likely play teams from other major conferences.
If the Panthers do not win both games, they will not play a team from another major conference until the Big East portion of the schedule begins on New Year’s Eve.
This is important because Pitt’s ranking in the Ratings Percentage Index, an important element in determining the NCAA tournament field, could be damaged without games against major-conference foes.
Pitt’s opponents in the preseason N.I.T. have not yet been unveiled, but sources indicate the three other teams in Pitt’s N.I.T. pod are Robert Morris, Lehigh and Fordham. Lehigh has a strong returning cast from a team that upset Duke in the first round of the NCAA tournament in March.
The other BCS schools hosting preseason N.I.T tournament games are Virginia, Michigan and Kansas State. If Pitt advances to Madison Square Garden it will play a semifinal game Nov. 21 and either a consolation or championship game Nov. 23.
If the Panthers do not advance they will play host to two lower-level teams Nov. 19 and 20 at the Petersen Events Center.
“There is no question the N.I.T. is the most challenging of the tournaments because you’re not sure who you’re going to play,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “It’s a true tournament.”
The one game against a major-conference foe Pitt was expecting never materialized. Pitt played at Tennessee in the SEC-Big East Invitational last season, and Dixon was expecting a home game against an SEC opponent at the Petersen Events Center this season.
But in the wake of Pitt switching conference affiliations to the ACC, the Big East reneged on its promise, which left a gaping hole in the schedule. Dixon filled it with a Dec. 1 home game against Detroit.
“It’s a game we were counting on,” Dixon said. “It’s one game out of 30. It is what it is. There are always games people may not be aware of that don’t come to fruition.”
Pitt will not play West Virginia for the first time since the 1916-17 season. The Panthers and Mountaineers played 184 times since 1904 and played twice a season many times when the Mountaineers were in the Big East.
Dixon said he did not discuss a game with West Virginia coach Bob Huggins for this season because most of his non-conference schedule had already been filled by the time the news came down this winter that West Virginia would be leaving for the Big 12 this fall.
As for future games with the Mountaineers, Dixon was non-committal.
“It’s something where many factors go into it,” Dixon said. “When all of the factors come together and it makes it so we can play, we’ll play. There are so many factors involved and they don’t just revolve around our program.”
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