The Syracuse Orange remain one of the two unblemished teams in all of college basketball and are the leaders in the ACC. When the Orange face off against the Pittsburgh Panthers at the Petersen Events Center on Wednesday it will come down to defense.
It can be argued part of Pitt’s recent problems on offense can be traced right back to when Syracuse defeated the Panthers at the Carrier Dome on Jan. 18. Pitt had been one of the higher scoring teams in the ACC coming into that game, but the famed Syracuse defense held the Panthers to less than 60 points for only the third time at that point in the season. Pitt also shot just 38 percent from the field and made only 13-of-23 free throws. Syracuse did not fair much better on offense, but the defense did enough to hand Pitt its first conference loss.
Since that game Pitt has gone 4-2 and has really slowed on offense in its last four games. The Panthers lost to Duke and Virginia shooting only 36.7 percent (36-of-98) from the field. The Panthers have rebounded with victories over Miami and Virginia Tech, but the recovering had little to do with offense. Both games went to overtime — two OTs against Tech — and Pitt shot a combined 35.2 percent (36-of-102) in those games. Luckily for the Panthers, Lamar Patterson caught fire against Miami and Tech’s offense was even worse than Pitt’s.
Pitt will not get this luxury against a much better Syracuse team. The Panthers were slowed by zone defenses against Miami and Tech. Clearly both teams noticed how the Panthers’ offense cannot shoot any team out of a zone, and big men do not flash to the free throw area enough to open up passes out of the high post.
Jamie Dixon is too good of a coach to let this continue, and when the two teams take to the court Wednesday, Pitt’s success — or lack there of — against the Syracuse zone will determine the game.
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