GAME 18: Pittsburgh (18-7 overall, 7-6 ACC) vs. Syracuse (18-9 overall, 8-6 ACC)
ALL-TIME SERIES: Syracuse, 65-42 (Last Meeting Dec. 2015 – Pittsburgh: W, 72-61)
DATE: Saturday, February 19th, 2016
GAME TIME: 2:00 PM EST
LOCATION: Carrier Dome
TV: ESPN2: Channel 25 & 301 on Time Warner Cable (depending on regular digital cable lineup or sports package); Channel 74 & 574 on Verizon Fios; Channel 209 on Direct TV; Channel 144 on Dish Network.
*Those outside Central NY check your local listings.
ORANGE RECAP: The world has not come to an end Syracuse fans. Yes, in many ways it was the tale of two halves. The Orange jumped out to an early lead, and Louisville looked like they couldn’t make a basket. By half time, when the birds took a one point lead, they carried that momentum to victory. The Cardinals used the ‘Cuse as their launching pad to perform the sequel to the Dunk Contest which took place just days before at NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto. What may have even been even more impressive was the way Louisville shared the ball, leading to 21 assists. Chinanu Onuaku, that last name should sound familiar SU fans (his brother), displayed great passing ability at the center position tossing alley-oops to his teammates. This game turned into a blow out before the Orange could blink after the intermission, but again no need to hang your heads ‘Cuse Nation. Remember when everyone was wondering if Syracuse could be above .500 in a five game stretch from late-January through mid-February (four home games and one road game)? SU went 5-0! That’s right! In fact, the Orange are 8-2 in their last 10 games, and are eighth in the ACC working towards at least one bye in the conference tournament. Just like the ‘Cuse will most likely do, throw the Louisville loss out and focus on Pittsburgh. Trevor Cooney (19) and Michael Gbinije (13) still managed double figures, and Frank Howard added six assists. There are always bright spots and it’s time to move on.
PITTSBURGH: The Panthers sit just below the Orange at ninth in the ACC standings. Revenge is in the air for SU as they were defeated 72-61 in the conference opener, when the ‘Cuse was under the interim helm of Mike Hopkins. Things have changed significantly since then for SU, albeit “Hop” still a great contributor in his original role. Syracuse has dropped just three games since Jim Boeheim, and the Panthers have been trading wins and losses on a game-by-game basis. There is no doubt that Jamie Dixon will have his team ready for a classic Big East (now ACC) battle and rivalry game. Michael Young (#2, F, 16.6 ppg.), Jamel Artis (#1, F, 14.8 ppg.) and James Robinson (#0, G, 10.1 ppg.) lead Pitt in scoring. It is pivotal that the zone shifts properly against this three-headed monster and close up the holes that have plagued them so much this season. The Panthers average just fewer than 40 rebounds per game and Robinson protects the rim at 31 blocks this season. Combine that with nearly 80 points per game (78.7), and the Orange will really have their hands full on the defensive end. In a bruising and banging style of play, it is going to take heroic performances in the post by Tyler Roberson, DaJuan Coleman and Tyler Lydon for Syracuse to keep with the pace of the game. The records are nearly identical, annual bragging rights on the line and each coming off a win/loss. Let’s get to the jump ball already.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
BUBBLE WATCH: Aside from being a rivalry game, this has NCAA Tournament implications. Joe Lunardi of ESPN Bracketology has both teams placed in the East Region. Pittsburgh would currently be a #9 seed (playing #8 Connecticut in Brooklyn) and Syracuse would be a #11 seed (playing #6 Providence in St. Louis). So, Lunardi has both teams squaring off against old Big East foes in the first round, with the Huskies in the American and the Friars in the new Big East Conference. These are the games which feature teams with seeding numbers that are usually associated with the bubble. A loss could put you outside looking in, while a win allows you to exhale until the next game. Post season aspirations couldn’t be higher before tip-off.
COIN FLIP: It would be unfair to expect too much from Tyler Lydon. He is a freshman with an abundance of talent, but clearly needs more seasoning. Lydon is always active on the boards and can block shots, but in a physical contest (Exhibit A: Louisville game) he can often disappear on the offensive end and lose his ground underneath. He had 15 against Florida State and 20 against Boston College, and the Orange need that in critical games of greater than normal implications. Sure, he needs help from Roberson and Coleman, but Cooney and Gbinije needs some offensive help as Malachi Richardson has leveled off in the last two games.
RPI RISE: As Orange Nation watches tournament projections with great vigilance, just look over the schedule. With ACC foes ranked such as: North Carolina, Virginia, Miami, Louisville, Notre Dame and Duke; Syracuse wins and losses in conference look more and more quality as the season moves on. Texas A&M is still ranked in some polls and Wisconsin has been playing better as of late, so the non-league schedule still looks solid as even Connecticut seems like a tournament team. In what will resemble watching the political primary polls, Syracuse fans on a nightly basis can project the chances for Madness in March.