Forwards Will Decide Pittsburgh vs. Syracuse

By Gregory Philson
C.J. Fair
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Every position on the floor will matter when no. 2 Syracuse hosts no. 22 Pittsburgh at the Carrier Dome, but the forwards will decide which team comes out undefeated in ACC play on Saturday.

Pittsburgh is led by one of the country’s best all-around players with the emergence of senior Lamar Patterson. Patterson is 6-foot-5 and may seem more like a guard. However, in Pitt’s system, Patterson’s skills make him act more like a point-forward. He played well during the non-conference part of the Panthers’ schedule, but has been nearly unstoppable in ACC play.

Patterson scored just 12 points against Georgia Tech on Tuesday, but still contributed with seven rebounds and seven assists. He did commit a season-high seven turnovers, but that is likely an aberration because he is averaging around only two miscues on the season. Patterson is scoring 20 points per game in conference play and is shooting nearly 52 percent from the field.

Alongside Patterson is senior Talib Zanna. Zanna led the way for the Panthers against Georgia Tech when he dropped 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the victory. Zanna may be the team’s most improved player, and now is a factor on offense. Zanna shot 8-of-10 from the field and did not turn the ball over against the Yellow Jackets.

It will be difficult for him to post those kind of numbers against the Orange, but because of his season-long efficiency (60 FG%) and solid rebound numbers (8.1 RPG) in only 27.4 minutes per game, he will be tough for Syracuse to contain completely.

C.J. Fair has been Syracuse’s most dependable player this season and has taken to the role of the go-to player with flying colors. Fair is averaging 17.1 points per game on 45 percent shooting. He also rebounds the ball well (5.8 RPG) and has only one single-digit scoring game this season. Fair stands at 6-foot-8 and should be able to give Pitt some problems because he offers mismatches no matter who is guarding him.

Jerami Grant will also challenge Pittsburgh from inside the 3-point line and in the paint. The sophomore forward is posting 12.5 points per game and is adding 6.6 rebounds. Grant is not super explosive, but he is consistent. He is shooting almost 50 percent from the field and rarely takes bad shots.

Pitt and Syracuse should be an excellent game, and the forwards will highlight this enticing battle.

Gregory T. Philson is an ACC college basketball writer at Follow him on Twitter @GTPhilson, “Like” him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google.

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