Pitt is getting national attention for not getting enough national attention.
The Panthers are 9-0, one of only 14 undefeated teams in the nation, yet aren’t nationally ranked.
“We’ve been ranked most of the time. Now, we’re not. It’s kind of a new dynamic for us,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “I do think we’re as good as a lot of teams that have been ranked, so that’s a good thing.”
The players have noticed, and are using the slight for motivation.
“I’d be lying to you to tell you that I don’t look at those rankings,” Pitt redshirt junior guard Cameron Wright said. “I think it provides a bigger chip for our team to have. I feel like we’ll definitely be ranked. Until then, we’ll just take it one game at a time.”
Don’t blame me.
Full disclosure: I’m a voter in the Associated Press poll (you can see my ballot here), and I had Pitt No. 15 last week.
But not everyone is sold on the Panthers, and Gary Parrish of CBS Sports explained why: “Specifically, some folks want to know what Pittsburgh must do to crack the Top 25 (and one).
My answer is simple: Beat a quality opponent.”
So, the knock is that Pitt is undefeated because it hasn’t played anyone of consequence.
The combined record of the Panthers’ opponents is 45-43. Not impressive. But three of those teams — Savannah State (2-9), Howard (2-10) and Duquesne (3-4) — have losing records and combine for 23 of those losses. Dixon said the Panthers had no control over their opponents in the Legends Classic, where they beat Texas Tech (6-3) and Stanford (6-2), or the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, where they beat Penn State (8-3).
“If that’s what they need, we’ll use it,” Dixon said, adding that Pitt has played non-conference games in the past against Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin. “We were in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. We were in the Legends Classic. You’re in with the best people. We’ve played a lot of the best ones in the past. Generally, the teams that are in there haven’t beaten too many ranked teams, either. Maybe they’ve beaten one. If one’s a lot more than none, so be it. I’m not too good at math, but…”
Dixon believes Pitt’s preseason status was based on the Panthers’ returning only five players from last season, although Talib Zanna, Lamar Patterson and James Robinson were starters. Most national voters, however, probably noted that Pitt lost its leading scorer in Tray Woodall and a lottery pick in center Steven Adams.
But Pitt wasn’t ranked last season until after it started 12-1.
Since the 2001-02 season, Pitt has been ranked in 80 percent of polls.
“We were always ranked when we lost a lot of guys,” Dixon said. “There was probably a stretch where we were getting ranked when with the guys we had returning you probably wouldn’t have thought. I’m not too concerned about it. Nobody’s setting the world on fire by who they’ve beaten. Maybe a game or two, but we’re going by the long haul.”
It was suggested to Dixon that blue bloods like Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina are often ranked based on their pedigree, whether they are truly deserving or not.
“We’re right there, but we’re not there,” Dixon said. “I’m the first to say that you just mentioned three teams that have won numerous national championships, and we haven’t. We’re right below that and I recognize that and acknowledge it. That’s something we’re trying to do, trying to get and that’s what we need to do. I can’t do anything about what programs did 30 years ago. That’s beyond our control.”
So are the rankings.
Pitt plays host to Youngstown State Saturday, then plays Cincinnati in the Jimmy V Classic Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. The Panthers won’t play a top 25 opponent until January.
If they are still undefeated by then, it will be hard for voters to leave them off their ballots.