Pitt is going to have nightmares about Tyler Ennis for a long time.
Jim Boehiem’s stud freshman point guard hit a running, 35-footer with two defenders on him as the buzzer sounded to give the Orange a 58-56 win over the Panthers at the Peterson Events Center on Wednesday night. It was just the latest clutch performance in what has become a season-long exhibition on how to properly play the point guard position from a guy that has gone from overshadowed to the best freshman in the country.
But we’ve known that Ennis was a good player for a long time now. We had him fourth in our Player of the Year Power Rankings on Tuesday. He’s been awesome, the biggest reason that Syracuse is still undefeated, and I’m not just talking about Wednesday.
He’s also not the only story here, because in addition to making an undefeated season just that much more likely for the Orange, he also managed to put Pitt in a position where missing the NCAA tournament is no longer a nightmare scenario.
It’s an actual possibility.
Not a probability, mind you.
The Panthers’ computer numbers are awesome. They entered the night ranked 14th by KenPom and 24th in the RPI, and while they’re currently sitting at 20-5 overall and 8-4 in the ACC, none of those losses have come to a team outside the top 18 in the RPI or the top 22 of KenPom. Putting together a resume that includes no bad losses will be enough to get you into the NCAA tournament most years, and beating every team that you’re supposed to beat over the course of a five month season is not as easy to do as it sounds.
There are upsets every single night, and thanks to a couple of too-close-for-comfort overtime wins against Miami and Virginia Tech last week, Pitt is without one of those losses.
But they don’t have a resume-defining win, which is why this loss to the Orange is going to sting so much. The best win that Pitt has this season is against Stanford, who is currently sitting at No. 42 in the RPI. Beyond that, they’ve beaten six more top 100 teams, all ACC foes, the best being N.C. State. And here’s the worst part: they don’t have anymore of those games.
They play North Carolina on the road this weekend. After that, it’s nothing but a bunch of NIT-at-best teams. Let me paint you a picture: let’s say that the Panthers lose to the Tar Heels, win out in ACC play, and then end up losing in the ACC tournament before beating one of the teams at the top of the conference while Stanford happens to come back to earth at the end of the Pac-12 season.
Where does that put Pitt?
In a position where they don’t have any top 50 RPI wins on Selection Sunday?
Will that be enough to get them into the Field of 68?
Probably, but the Panthers will be looking at a seed that is much less than ideal with a margin of error that is slimmer than Panther fans are used to. One bad loss could end up being really, really costly.
How big does James Robinson’s four-point play to force overtime against Virginia Tech look now?