Can Pitt Still Get A No. 1 NCAA Seed?

Sam Young can carry Pitt a long way.

If the Pitt men's basketball team wins its remaining two regular-season games against Marquette Wednesday night at 7:30 and Connecticut Saturday at noon at the Pederson Events Center, it will secure opening byes in the Big East Tournament next week and not play until March 12.

However, would Pittsburgh (26-3 overall and 13-3 in the Big East) -- ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press writers' poll and No. 4 in the USA Today-ESPN coaches' poll this week -- also deserve a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if it beats Marquette and UConn? Would the Big East Tourney results factor in?

"At least we have two home games, and that usually doesn't happen in our conference,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said.

It wasn't surprising that Dixon believed the Big East Tournament was more important than the regular-season Conference final standings, but added that the Conference results were more important in his mind prior to coming to Pitt.

"When we've lost in the championship, I'd probably say the tournament's the most important one,'' Dixon said. "But it goes back and forth. But I think the Big East Tournament is more important than other tournaments nationally. I would have thought it would be the conference, but now I think the conversations are equally divided. It would be great to win both.

"(But) we're going to have a lot of teams in there. Usually the team that wins out in the end and the Conference Tournament, how all that plays out, we can only have one winner of that. So, I think it's obvious that we're going to beat each other up. We've already done that.

"So, a lot can be talked about,'' Dixon added, "but we've got a lot of things going on as a Conference. ... When two top teams get together (like No. 1 UConn and Pitt Saturday), only one can win. And that doesn't happen in other conferences as much as it happens in our conference.''

Dixon believed it was conceivable for two teams from the Big East to get No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, but "it depends on how things play out in other conferences as well,'' Dixon said. "Two highly-ranked teams will be playing each other in our Conference Tournament.''

Louisville is sixth. Villanova is 11th, and Marquette is 13th in the AP rankings. The Cardinals and Wildcats both have wins against Pitt, and it obviously hasn't played the Eagles yet. That will happen Wednesday night to set up the rematch against top-ranked UConn. Pitt is ranked No. 1 in the all-important RPI, which includes strength of schedule as well as a team's record.

"I think this year, we made history in a lot of ways, and to earn a No. 1 seed would really tack on another honor to our resume that will be real important,'' Pitt senior forward Sam Young said.

"It's a chance for us to do things that Pitt has not done in the past, and having the No. 1 seed I thing would put us into the NCAA Tournament with a big confidence boost. So, I think it would be very important for us to get that.''

"Definitely, we've talked about it,'' Young added. "We don't talk about it too much when we're winning, but we definitely talk about it after our losses. Where we stand and what we need to do to make sure we can still get a No. 1 seed.''

The NCAA Tournament's selection committee looks at won-loss records, RPI, strength of schedule and the final 10 games, among other criteria, when deciding seedings. The best way to strengthen your position in the RPI is to beat another highly ranked team on the road. The best way to move down in the RPI is to lose to an unranked team, especially at home.

Pitt and UConn are the Big East's best bets for No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Louisville has an outside shot. Pitt is No. 1 in the RPI with a strength of schedule (SOS) at No. 18. Duke (No. 5 SOS), North Carolina (24), Michigan State (4) and Oklahoma (31) round out the top 5 in RPI.

UConn (33), Kansas (14), Memphis (50), Utah (11) and Louisville (17) are sixth through 10th in RPI. If the Panthers beat Marquette and the Huskies in the final two regular-season games, especially UConn, it is virtually guaranteed a No. 1 spot in the NCAA Tournament.

"We would definitely like to have that No. 1 seed,'' junior guard Jermaine Dixon said. "Me and Levance talk about that all the time, and we want to play close to home. I don't know where the regional is, but the one that's close. We want to play there as the No. 1 seed, so we're going to work hard to get there.''

Pitt has never been a No. 1 NCAA seed and has not won a Big East Conference regular-season championship since 2003-04, Dixon's first season as head coach. Louisville must lose a game for the Panthers to have a chance for its sixth Big East regular-season title, the bigger goal for this team is getting one of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tourney.

In this season of firsts -- the rise to No. 1 for the first time and by beating UConn the first victory against a No. 1-ranked team -- one other No. 1 first remains: The Panthers have never been a No. 1 seed in 19 previous NCAA tournament appearances. The highest the Panthers have been was a No. 2 in 2003, and they certainly should at least match that spot.

"It would definitely mean a lot for us to win a Big East championship, and it's definitely one of our goals to win that,'' freshman guard Ashton Gibbs said. "Of course, losing to Providence hurt that, but if we move on and win these last (two) games we hope to come out on top in the Big East.

"We still have a (couple) more games left, so we have to focus more and just keep playing our game. (And) the higher our seed, the better it is. But if we play our game, I think we can beat anybody. You can get a close spot in the East with a higher seed, so the higher the better for us.''

With wins in its final two games, Pitt would deserve a No. 1 NCAA seed as well.

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