Note: This piece was written before Saturday night’s Seton Hall at Pitt contest
The Syracuse Orange travel to Pittsburgh to face the Panthers in a showdown between two top five teams. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 pm and the game will be shown on ESPN and ESPN3.
Pittsburgh will win…
because Syracuse is the least perfect undefeated team in college basketball, they get rattled way too easily and their inability to consistently start games and drain free throws will cost them on the road. When playing their worst, this crop of Syracuse players throws the ball around like they’re being controlled by a hyperactive child hitting the “pass” button on his Xbox controller once a second, they shoot under 20 percent for the first ten minutes of the contest and they try way too hard for fast break opportunities that just aren’t there. They’ve survived such poor play against unranked teams. That won’t be the case on Monday night.
The Panthers have owned Syracuse basketball as of late due to the fact that Pittsburgh matches up with the Orange as good as, if not better than, any other team in the nation. The Syracuse zone defense has held the team’s last four opponents to under 60 points and both Michigan State and Notre Dame, two ranked teams, managed to score only 58 points against the Orange. Such stats are impressive but Syracuse has been giving up way too many wide open three point attempts this season. This would have cost them against Seton Hall if the Pirates had a legitimate there-point threat on the court, and Cincinnati guard Dion Dixon, a 31 percent shooter beyond the arc, buried six of eleven three pointers against Syracuse on Saturday afternoon. Pittsburgh guard Ashton Gibbs will light ‘Cuse up if given the chance on Monday.
Forward Kris Joseph, Syracuse’s leading scorer who had averaged over 20 points a game in the team’s five previous contests, is likely to sit on Monday after landing hard on the back of his head during Saturday’s game against Cincy. Trying to win at Pittsburgh without your most versatile player may be an impossible task.
Syracuse will win…
because Rick Jackson is a force that cannot be stopped by mortal men. Jackson has eleven double-doubles thus far this season and he’s currently averaging 13 points and roughly twelve rebounds a contest. On Saturday afternoon, Jackson proved that he can get the job done without Kris Joseph on the court. Expect more of the same from Jackson on Monday night even if Joseph is sidelined.
Sophomore guard Brandon Triche could be Syracuse’s most important player against Pittsburgh. Triche, along with Scoop Jardine, must keep Syracuse calm and in control while in possession of the ball. A few early turnovers from either guard will have the Orange playing catch-up on the road.
Watch out for forward James Southerland and freshman big man Fab Melo. Both will see more playing time against Pittsburgh if Kris Joseph cannot go and both have already proven they can make a significant impact. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim credited Melo, a shot blocker that no opposing player wants to face in the paint, with turning the tide in Saturday’s game against Cincinnati. The 6-8 Southerland adds to Syracuse’s down low depth and if he gets going, he’ll have a double-double against Pittsburgh.
Free throws must be made. Shooting 50 percent from the charity stripe against Pittsburgh just won’t cut it.
Syracuse is one of the deepest teams in the Big East but even they cannot just replace a Kris Joseph. With his status currently up in the air, I cannot pick the Orange to come out of Pittsburgh with the win. A few clanged free throws in the final few minutes keeps Syracuse from closing the gap and the Panthers hand the Orange their first loss of the season. Pittsburgh wins 78-73.