The Syracuse Orange look to bounce back following their first conference loss on the season when they head to Pittsburgh Saturday. Tip off is set for 12:00, and is being broadcast on ESPN.
The Orange are coming up on a critical 2 games stretch on the conference schedule that will have major Big East implications. Pittsburgh has won 5 of their last 7 games, which included wins over Georgetown and the same Villanova team that beat Syracuse just a week ago. The Panthers most recently played a tough game on the road in Louisville, losing a close one to the Cardinals 64-61. With the Panthers only one game out of third place in the conference and two games out of first, this is the biggest home game on the schedule for Pitt as they absolutely need this signature victory.
The Panthers are led by senior Tray Woodall. Woodall is an experience-heavy leader, who passes the ball as well as anyone in the conference. He can also slash and get to the basket, and can cause matchup problems for every team he plays all season. Tray averages 10.7 points per game, while averaging almost a 3:1 assist to turnover ratio. Pittsburgh is 6th in the nation in assists, and Woodall is a major reason why. Throw his passing in to combine with guard James Robinson’s ability to dish the ball, and Syracuse will have their hands full. The Orange will have to limit the extra pass that could lead to multiple threes if they are going to be successful in this game.
Another key player the Orange need to be aware of is junior forward Talib Zanna. Zanna is a 6 foot 9, 230 pound big man who can be a force in the paint grabbing rebounds and scoring baskets. Syracuse is a great rebounding team to this point in the season, and that trend is going to have to continue if Syracuse hopes to contain Zanna and keep points out of the paint.
An x-factor in this game could be junior forward Lamar Patterson. Patterson is a forward who can shoot the three ball, and could pose problems for Syracuse if they put too much emphasis on Woodall to try and prevent the three. Patterson appears to me to have the making of the “opposing player who has a career game against the Syracuse zone” guy, and could give Syracuse serious problems from the three point line. While Patterson isn’t exactly under the radar as the team’s third leading scorer, his shooting ability isn’t recognized as a strong point of his game, so his stat line may surprise you by the end of the contest Saturday afternoon.
For Syracuse, this game is absolutely huge to get through with a victory. The Orange are going to be at least two more games without James Southerland, who is having his appeal heard next week. With the potential to possibly get him back after the Notre Dame game Monday definitely is a distraction for this team, and it will be important for Syracuse to stay focused for these next two games.
Another interesting piece to this game will be who gets the ball down the stretch. This game has all the makings of a close one, and I’m curious to see who Jim Boeheim calls upon. Down the stretch against Villanova, Michael Carter-Williams struggled and forced this issue a lot, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Brandon Triche with the ball in crunch time. It is the belief of a big piece of the fan base that Triche should have had the ball for the final three minutes of regulation against the Wildcats, and that the Orange wouldn’t have faltered should that have happened.
This game should turn in to a victory for Syracuse, but it definitely won’t come easy. Pittsburgh has more than enough talent to upset the Orange, and a loss could be huge for Syracuse with Marquette right on their heels. The Golden Eagles play Louisville Saturday, and if they can be successful against the Cards Marquette will have an easy stretch the following week leading up to a game against Georgetown. It is highly important for the Orange to maintain control of the conference, and to hopefully create some space between themselves and the rest of the conference. I think Syracuse takes care of business following the loss to Villanova, and wins a close one over the Panthers on the road.