As soon as Pittsburgh released its non-league schedule for next season on Tuesday afternoon, the torrent of familiar complaints began.
There's certainly some validity to the idea Dixon has historically scheduled meekly in non-league play, but the criticism of this slate seems over-the-top.
Considering the caliber of a beefed-up ACC that now includes potential preseason top 25 teams Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Louisville and Virginia, Pittsburgh doesn't need a loaded non-league schedule to ensure chances for marquee wins or to finish with respectable RPI. What's more, this year's schedule is an improvement on the anemic slate the Panthers played last season when they still went 25-9, reached the NCAA tournament as a No. 9 seed and finished with a top 40 RPI.
Unlike last season when its holiday tournament was a Legends Classic that featured Stanford, Houston and Texas Tech as the other high-profile teams, Pittsburgh will play in the always formidable Maui Invitational this November. Among the other teams in the field are Final Four threat Arizona, preseason top 20 San Diego State, Big 12 contender Kansas State and respectable BYU, Missouri and Purdue.
The rest of the schedule isn't menacing, but it's still an improvement over last season when a neutral court game against Cincinnati was the only notable matchup. A Big Ten-ACC challenge road game at Indiana will be challenging, and home games against Manhattan and Florida Gulf Coast represent a modest attempt to bolster the mid-major portion of the schedule.
The only way Pittsburgh's schedule could hurt the way last year's did is if the Panthers fall in their opening Maui Invitational game and don't face enough marquee opponents in the loser's bracket. A Missouri-Chaminade-Purdue trio of games in Maui would mean the Panthers could be in danger of accomplishing next-to-nothing in non-league play unless they win at Indiana and the Hoosiers are good enough for that to mean something.
Most likely, however, Pittsburgh's schedule should be good enough not to be too damaging.
Chances are their non-league slate will be tougher than last year's because of the strength of the Maui Invitational. And chances are the ACC will also be stronger than it was a year ago thanks to trading Louisville for Maryland.
Playing in a tough conference has its drawbacks, but one of the advantages is there are always plenty of chances to pick up marquee wins for teams that didn't get enough in November and December.
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