Pittsburgh vs. Syracuse: Guards Will Be Major Factor

By Gregory Philson
Cameron Wright
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse was definitely thought of as a serious ACC title contender in its inaugural season in the league because of the return of C.J. Fair and of the thoughts of what freshman guard Tyler Ennis could bring to the Orange. Pittsburgh was not thought of that highly in its first season in the new-look conference. The Panthers were not ranked in the preseason and just cracked the top-25 this week.

Well, this Saturday will now see the ACC game of the season so far because both teams will meet up at the Carrier Dome being undefeated in conference play and with just one total loss between them.

Syracuse is coming off a come-from-behind-victory over Boston College, and Pittsburgh beat Georgia Tech on the road in the Panthers’ first game without sixth man Durand Johnson. Both teams have looked like the best two teams in the ACC because of both have been winning rather convincingly, and because the rest of the league looks to be in a down year.

All of that aside, the guards for both teams will play a major role in which team will remain unbeaten in the conference. Ennis is definitely showing why he was thought of so highly as an incoming freshman and is leading the team in assists at 5.6 per game. Even more impressive is his ability to control the ball so carefully. Ennis is only committing 1.4. turnovers per game.

His season-high for turnovers was four against North Carolina, and he has four games where he did not commit a single turnover. Pittsburgh takes pride in its relentless defense, and Ennis’ control of the game will definitely be something to watch.

Sophomore guard Trevor Cooney is somewhat forgotten in the mix for the Orange despite being second on the team in scoring at 14.1 points per game. Cooney scored 21 points against Boston College and had some big dunks in the victory. Cooney is not the first name most fans think of, but Pitt definitely is preparing for him.

This is where Cameron Wright and James Robinson come in for coach Jamie Dixon‘s Panthers. Both players will be asked to handle Ennis in the backcourt and while Pittsburgh is a team that shifts well off of screens and contains perimeter players well, Syracuse’s backcourt will be the team’s toughest challenge at any spot this season.

Probably the best route for Pitt’s backcourt will be to try to contain Ennis by making him get rid of the ball early. If Pitt can change the Syracuse backcourt’s pace of play, a lot of what coach Jim Boeheim likes to do could be disrupted. Pitt should look to come in and out of presses after made baskets, employ some early traps and also shift defensive players often on Ennis. It will be interesting to see how Ennis takes to different looks on defense if Pitt offers this challenge.

Wright and Robinson also can slow Ennis by being offensive forces. Robinson tallied 16 points and Wright scored 14 points in Pitt’s victory over Tech. Both players have the skills to drop double-digit scoring numbers, and both should run Ennis around as much as possible. That will be difficult because of the Syracuse zone, but anything these two can do to move Ennis around more will only help.

The guards may not win the game for either team because of how talented the rest of the rosters are, but a late miscue or a lead-changing jumper may fall into the hands of any of these players come Saturday.

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

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