One college basketball result in the ACC Saturday night changed the entire complexion of the season for the Virginia Cavaliers and Pittsburgh Panthers. The two teams meet Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh. With Syracuse‘s 91-89 overtime win over the Duke Blue Devils Saturday, the Orange are now 8-0 in the conference and are proving tough to catch.
Virginia (16-5, 7-1) has the best chance to make that run right now. A win Sunday over Pittsburgh puts the Cavaliers to 8-1 in the ACC and just a half-game back of the Orange, who must visit Charlottesville on March 1 in the lone regular-season meeting between the two teams this season. But a loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday would leave Virginia at 7-2 and two games behind the Orange in the loss column. Even at the halfway point of the ACC season, Virginia can’t afford to give up any more ground to Syracuse since the teams only play the one time.
For Pittsburgh, the situation is a little more desperate. The Panthers have already lost to Syracuse, a tough 59-54 decision on Jan. 18 at the Carrier Dome. Unlike Virginia, the Panthers do get to see the Orange again during the regular season, a game in Pittsburgh on Feb. 12. But also unlike the Cavaliers, Pittsburgh already has two conference losses. Earlier this week, the Panthers were embarrassed at home by Duke 80-65. A win on Sunday over Virginia would not only keep the Panthers within shouting distance of the Orange, but it would lift Pittsburgh into second place in the conference with a 7-2 record, the same as Virginia but with a tiebreaker advantage.
A loss for the Panthers on Sunday would leave Pittsburgh in a murky situation. Pittsburgh (18-3, 6-2) would fall to 6-3 in the conference, level with Duke but behind the Blue Devils on a tiebreaker. This would mean the Panthers would be fourth in the conference, and even in the loss column with fifth-place Clemson. The Tigers improved to 14-6, 5-3 with a narrow win over Florida State on Saturday. A loss would also be Pittsburgh’s second straight and could ruin the Panthers’ confidence going forward.
In short, neither Virginia nor Pittsburgh can really afford to lose on Sunday. That was probably already the case before Saturday, but with Syracuse staying unbeaten and threatening to run away with the ACC race, both the Cavaliers and the Panthers now face must-win situations on Super Bowl Sunday.