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Pittsburgh is on pace to become Selection Sunday's most intriguing bubble team

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Jamie Dixon (Getty Images)

If the extent of Pittsburgh's NCAA tournament resume is that it has beaten every bad team it has faced, even that argument is beginning to look more flimsy.

First the Panthers lost at home 10 days ago to a Florida State team on the fringes of the bubble picture. Then the Panthers fell at home again on Monday night against an NC State team that previously hadn't beaten any surefire NCAA tournament teams. 

The damage inflicted on Pittsburgh by those two losses has taken the Panthers from a team likely to receive a lower-than-expected seed to a team in jeopardy of not making the NCAA tournament at all. That also makes Pittsburgh arguably this season's most intriguing bubble team since its resume is unlike that of any other team in contention for one of the final spots in the field of 68.

Six of Pittsburgh's eight losses have come against teams in the RPI top 20 and all eight have been at the hands of top 60 teams. The Panthers have also been tantalizingly close to some huge victories, falling by one to AAC contender Cincinnati, by three to ACC champion Virginia and twice to Syracuse by a total of seven points.

None of those losses are embarrassing, but the problem is that the close calls don't give Pittsburgh the quality win it desperately needs. The Panthers are 1-6 against the RPI top 50, with their best wins coming against a Stanford team that's still no lock to make the NCAA tournament and an NC State team that will need a March miracle to get there. 

Most mock brackets still have Pittsburgh in the NCAA tournament as of today, but the Panthers have a road game at Clemson and the ACC tournament left. Either a loss to the Tigers or in the opening round in Greensboro would damage their resume further and force the selection committee to give their scant profile an even more thorough look. 

How did Pittsburgh get in this position? 

Some of it is Jamie Dixon's fault because his tissue-soft non-conference schedule gave the Panthers very few chances for marquee non-league wins. Some of it is simply bad luck because Pitt was a Tyler Ennis 35 footer away from handing Syracuse its first loss last month and the Panthers could easily have toppled Virginia, North Carolina or Cincinnati too. But some of it is also that Pittsburgh is not playing as well down the stretch as it did earlier in the season.

On Monday night, the Panthers scored efficiently but they couldn't keep NC State off the offensive glass and they had no answer for T.J. Warren. Two nights earlier, they only survived a 54.8 percent shooting night from Notre Dame by bludgeoning the Irish on the offensive glass. And in the Florida State loss, they couldn't keep the Seminoles off the foul line or score efficiently enough at the other end to make up for it. 

Those are problems Pittsburgh needs to correct before its matchup against a Clemson team that is stingy defensively and dangerous at home. 

Pittsburgh has already squandered most of its margin for error. Another loss, and there won't be any left.

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