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NCAA Tournament Projections: Pitt's Win At Villanova Could Give Team Inside Track To No. 1 Seed

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VILLANOVA PA - FEBRUARY 12: Travon Woodall #1 of the Pittsburgh Panthers drives around Mouphtaou Yarou #13 of the Villanova Wildcats at The Pavilion on February 12 2011 in Villanova Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
VILLANOVA PA - FEBRUARY 12: Travon Woodall #1 of the Pittsburgh Panthers drives around Mouphtaou Yarou #13 of the Villanova Wildcats at The Pavilion on February 12 2011 in Villanova Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
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Pitt's great season just got that much better after the team went on the road Saturday to defeat Villanova on a court where no road team had won in 46 games.

When Ashton Gibbs suffered a knee injury about a week ago, it was unknown how the team would respond. In typical Pitt fashion, the Panthers have found a way to not only survive, but thrive. The team has won consecutive road games against West Virginia and Villanova in two of the conference's toughest buildings to play. The Panthers already held good wins against Syracuse, UConn, Texas on a neutral court, and Georgetown on the road. When you add these two recent wins to it, you've got a resume that has the makings of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

What really should help the Panthers out is that they're playing in the nation's toughest and deepest conference. To put together a 23-2 record against this tough a schedule is not an accomplishment many other teams can match at this point in the season. Another reason they're in good shape is because Pitt doesn't have a bad loss. Losing to Notre Dame, a top-ten team, is certainly not a bad defeat, and even though Tennessee has slipped out of the rankings, they were once a top-ten team and are a respectable 15-10. True, Pitt should have beaten such an opponent, especially considering the game was in Pittsburgh. But it's not like losing to a sub .500 team or one in a lesser conference.

Right now, the top five contenders for a No. 1 seed are probably Pitt, Ohio State, Kansas, Texas, and Duke. San Diego State and BYU also have a good chance, but those two teams will likely need to finish several wins ahead of each of the aforementioned five teams because they aren't in major conferences and haven't played as many quality opponents. With a two-game conference lead, Pitt would really need to falter down the stretch, because I don't see the selection committee giving two Big 12 teams a No. 1 seed and leaving the Big East out completely. Plus, Pitt currently has one fewer loss than Texas and beat the Longhorns head-to-head on a neutral court, so it would be hard to justify slotting the Panthers below them.

The Panthers now have six games remaining on their regular-season schedule. Two of those are against South Florida, one of the conference's worst teams. A road game at St. John's and home contest against West Virginia will be tough games, but Pitt will be favored in both. On paper, the Panthers' two toughest games left are at home against Villanova and on the road against Louisville. Even if Pitt goes a pedestrian 4-2 the rest of the way and loses in the Big East tournament, they'll have a total of only five losses on the season.

Pitt's greatest challenge for a No. 1 seed could come from Notre Dame. The Irish are the second-highest ranked team in the conference and own a win over Pitt at The Pete. But the Panthers are two games ahead of Notre Dame for the conference lead and if the Irish slip up even once or twice (which, with road games against West Virginia and UConn, and a home game against Villanova is entirely possible), Pitt should finish as the conference's highest-ranked team.

Barring a major collapse by both Pitt and Notre Dame, the Big East should secure at least one No. 1 seed. Now, there's still a lot of season left and it's entirely too early to predict the top four seeds. Conference tournaments will play a huge part in things and teams still have a handful of games left in their regular seasons. But with several quality wins, Pitt has placed itself in pretty good position to secure a No. 1 seed.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.