The Long and Winding "Orange" Road

With each game, it looks more likely that the Pittsburgh Panthers will face the Syracuse Orangemen in Madison Square Garden, where the Orangemen would have a severe fan advantage, to win their first Big East Tournament.

The Panthers will have to take the long "Orange" road to get to the Big East Finals. It's not the longest. That's reserved for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish who, with their loss last night to Syracuse 92 - 88, will be forced to win 4 games to earn their first Big East Championship.

The Panthers, via that Orangemen win, are for all intents and purposes destined for the #2 seed in the Big East West division regardless of whether they share the regular-season championship.

The Panthers and Orangemen will be tied (pending both teams now win out) in most of the tie-breakers; however, Syracuse would have a better divisional record (9 - 2 to Pitt's 8 - 3).

So, barring any unforeseen tragedy, the Panthers will likely end up with a bye but will take the long road. What is this long road? Well, if the season ended today, the Panthers would have to face the winner of Villanova/Boston College-Rutgers. Then they would probably face Connecticut in the semi-finals. And if they can survive another Huskie onslaught, the Panthers would have to defeat Syracuse.

It makes for a great tournament, but the Panthers didn't get the help that many thought the Irish would provide.

Regardless, the Syracuse Orangemen, based on wins at Notre Dame, Georgetown, and Michigan St., and based on their talent, have to be considered the favorites in the Big East Tournament. Plus, barring a collapse, the Orange will have an outside shot at the #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with their R.P.I.

Even if Pitt goes on to win the Big East Tournament, the Orangemen would most likely be seeded evenly with Pitt in the NCAA tournament.

The Panthers faced a difficult path last year, defeating Miami 73 - 70 in the semi-finals of the Big East tournament, so they're used to playing against hostile crowds in that venue. They've made the finals the past two years and would seem to have their best shot at a championship this season.

No one can doubt that Syracuse and Pitt are evenly matched and would make for an incredible final. No one can doubt that the two best teams in the Big East this season are these same two teams. But, the road to the championship is loaded with the traffic of other teams, namely Boston College, Seton Hall, Connecticut, and Notre Dame.

There is no guarantee that even the Orangemen will make the finals, but they've learned throughout the season how to win on the road. They've done it. Pitt has yet to learn and that is why the road to the Big East championship is painted Orange.

--John Apple

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