The Panthers 2015-16 schedule was released a little bit ago and there are some exciting big games for fans to look forward to. Teams like North Carolina, Duke, and Gonzaga headline the schedule. Winning against big name teams like that would greatly help Pitt’s NCAA Tournament resume. However, big wins are not the only crucial factor evaluated for the Big Dance. Avoiding bad loses can be just as critical, last year’s Panthers had sever of those. Here are the sleeper teams that could surprise Dixon’s squad if they do not come ready to play.
- At Virginia Tech March 2, 2016
Last year Dixon and company left Blacksburg in defeat after an overtime 70-67 decision. As well, in the 2013-14 season the Panthers barely escaped with a home overtime victory. Those two games prove the Hokies have been able to give Dixon fits. This season they will meet up twice and the second match up has the makings of a big time sleeper game. Pitt will be coming off back-to-back crucial home games, Louisville then Duke. Both of those might wear down the Panthers before their trip to Blacksburg. Finally, factor in that will be the second to last home game of the year for Va. Tech and you have got yourself a tough outing.
- Vs. Maryland Eastern Shore January 2, 2016
Some may be surprised to see this match up on the list, but there is good reason for it. They may have been only a .500 team, but they do return two of their top four scorers. More importantly than anything though this game is sandwiched between two ACC contests. Last season when the Panthers played Bryant University between their Notre Dame and Syracuse games they only managed to win by five points. Dixon will have to make sure his team is focused even though this game has little upside to their tournament resume.
- Vs. Kent State November 28, 2015
Kent finished and impressive 23-12 last season. Even though they lost key contributors from their team a season ago it should still be expected they will be a competitive bunch. Also, factor in that this game comes right before their showdown at home against Purdue for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Last year the Panthers had the tendency to struggle playing inferior opponents before big games. Before the Maui Invitational Dixon’s squad dropped a game to Hawaii and looked sluggish versus Chaminade. Kent could be the beneficiary of an upset if the Panthers continue that trend.
- Vs. Boston College January 16, 2016
Pitt barely escaped their clutches twice last year winning by only seven points total in two match ups. When they meet up again this year the Panther will be just a day removed from a night game at Louisville. As well they will only a couple days away from playing the team that knocked them out of the ACC Tournament, NC State. Another reason the Pitt might look past this inferior team is that stud guard Olivier Hanlan departed for the draft. Without him players could assume this a walkthrough of a game. Hopefully for their tournament dream’s sake that is not the case.
- Vs. Duquesne December 4, 2015
In a rivalry game anything can happen. Now it is true the Panthers have been blowing through the Dukes for a while now so it is less of a rivalry for Pitt than it is for Duquesne. That is exactly why it is such a sleeper game. This game means more than anything to them, if they beat Pitt it will all but make their season. As well, getting over that hump is more than enough motivation. Finally, the Dukes have one of the best backcourt shooting tandems in the nation with Micah Mason and Derrick Colter. They both managed to shoot over 40% from three last year, meaning if they get hot from the perimeter a huge upset could happen.