Is Pittsburgh NCAA Tournament Worthy?

    Obviously, no, not at this point, but can they be? They are certainly headed in the right direction with three straight wins after starting Big East conference play 0-7. They recorded their first signature win of the year over then-No. 10 Georgetown at home and followed it up with a road win over bubble-team West Virginia. The latest win moved the Panthers to 14-9 overall and 3-7 in Big East play.

        The difference-maker has been the return of point guard Tray Woodall to the lineup after missing 11 games with various ailments and injuries. With the junior guard in the lineup, Pitt is 9-3. Without him, they are just 5-6. Offensively, Woodall pushes pre-season player of the year, Ashton Gibbs, back off-the-ball, into his more natural spot-up wing positioning, while he handles the ball the bulk of the time initiating the offense. While he creates for others (7 assists per game, 44.7 percent assist rate, which would rank third in the nation had he qualified), he is a spark driving the ball and knocking down perimeter shots. His offensive rating is a blistering 118.7, a hair behind UConn's Jeremy  Lamb, as Woodall is shooting 48 percent from the field, and 43.4 percent from the 3-point arc.

        Previously mentioned, Gibbs is one of the biggest benefactors of Woodall's return; he is averaging 17.5 points on 42 percent shooting with him and 15.2 points on 36.4 percent without him in the lineup. But senior forward Nasir Robinson has also seen a spark in production: 13.3 points and 66.0 field-goal percentage with Woodall and 11.5 points and 55 percent shooting without him.

        The Panthers have begun to dig themselves out of a giant hole, but without only one team currently ranked in the Top 25 left on the Big East slate, Pittsburgh cannot falter down the stretch.

By President Corey Ruff - 1 - 31 - 12