Pitt basketball has had a critical problem for as long as Jamie Dixon has been coach, out of conference scheduling. Dixon has never been a fan of playing high profile out of conference games. Instead, Pitt has constantly played lower level division one teams who are not nearly at the same level as Pitt. When you compare Dixon’s schedule with teams like Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Kansas it is not even close. If the goal of the program is to become elite then tough scheduling is an absolute necessity.
For starters I will give Dixon some credit, because this year’s schedule is one of the toughest in recent memory. Big out of conference games against Gonzaga, Purdue, and Davidson are all pretty solid games. However, that is not enough to be considered a truly great schedule. Each one of those games look good on surface, but when you look deeper they still have major flaws. Gonzaga was an elite eight team a year ago and should be a top 10 team this year with Kyle Wiltjer leading them. They did lose their starting backcourt and that very well could keep them from becoming elite. This game is a good start to the out of conference schedule, not the headline game. Last year it was San Diego State who was the headline out of conference game and just like Gonzaga it should not be. Purdue and Davidson are both okay out of conference games, but simply put they not going blow away the tournament committee.
What needs to be done about this problem is scheduling several more big name teams. These teams could be programs like Georgetown, UConn, UCLA, Villanova, or West Virginia. All of those schools would definitely be interested, because they would also want to add a quality game to their resume. As well, old Big East rivalries could be renewed with these games leading to a spike in attendance and media coverage. Fans would love to come to big out of conference games to watch some of the schools they would not normally get see Pitt play live. Plus with these games more national television games would occur, helping to attract recruits from across the nation. High school kids want to get their name out there with big games and without a strong out of conference schedule Pitt fails to do that.
Finally the most important reason for this revamped scheduling would be to prepare the team for a tournament run. Playing teams that will be in the NCAA Tournament helps prepare a team for what level of competition they will be seeing in March. Tougher scheduling will make Dixon teams not only ready for March Madness, but also for ACC play. The ACC might be the best conference in the nation and bigger earlier games would get the Panthers more battle tested before the start of conference play.
I do realize one of the reason Dixon has an easier schedule is because their conference is so tough they do not want to wear down by the end of the year. The problem with that line of though is that it is flawed. Duke plays an elite schedule and they are the most success program in the country recently. If the goal is compete for final fours and nation championships, which it should be, then bumping up the level of out of conference play is absolutely needed. Duke has used this strategy to reach the mountaintop and it could very well bring about a new age of success for the Panthers.