ACC Basketball

Pittsburgh Looking to Sweep Syracuse

Jared Wickerham / Getty Images North America

HOW WE GET HERE:
The Pittsburgh Panthers are 17-10 on the year, 6-7 in the ACC. They still have an outside shot to make the Big Dance without an ACC Tournament title, but they need to be perfect down the stretch. They’ve lost two of three, both against ranked teams (Louisville, Virginia), although if you want to look at it another way, they’ve won four of six including wins over Notre Dame and Syracuse.

The Syracuse Orange are coming off their best win of the season over Louisville, although the Cardinals were without Chris Jones. However, prior to that victory, they had dropped four of seven and are looking to earn back-to-back wins for the first tim since January 13.

PREVIOUS GATHERING:
These two met two weeks ago in Pittsburgh. It was the first game for Syracuse after the team learned there would be no post-season play. They came out strong, opening up a 10-point lead in the first half, but behind Jamel Artis and Sheldon Jeter, the Panther started to hit their shots and pulled away late to win, 83-77.

FIVE NOT-SO-DEEP THOUGHTS

  • One of the hottest players in the ACC gets to face off with the worst defensive team in the ACC. The Panthers D hasn’t stopped much of anything in conference play, last in defensive efficiency, last in effective FG%, last in 3P% (according to Ken Pom) and near the bottom of every other defensive category, except steals and turnovers. The Orange’s Michael Gbinije needs his name dropped into All-ACC conversations. In his last eight, few if any have been better. He’s averaging nearly 19 per game, hitting 32-48 from inside the arc, 21-44 from outside, hitting 57% of his total shots. With the way Jamie Dixon’s squad plays defense, Gbinije should be able to duplicate his first half against Duke for the full 40 minutes.
  • In the interior, Syracuse should have a solid advantage. Rakeem Christmas has the size to destroy Pitt’s Michael Young, who has struggled against true centers. The Panthers’ sophomore big man has the heart of a center, but sadly, the body of a power forward; he simply doesn’t have the size to match up. Christmas is coming off his best game, scoring 29 points and grabbing eight boards against a usually stout Louisville frontline and he should have no problem keeping it going in his second to last home game of his college career.
  • As I just pointed out, defensively, one-on-one, Pittsburgh won’t be able to handle Syracuse’s size. However, there are things they can do. For instance, try doubling down on Christmas. Against Boston College, a team with a weak frontline, the Syracuse center faced double teams all game long and struggled. He hit just three shots and got to the FT line just once. The key is, who to double with. The man guarding Gbinije can’t leave him and Tyler Roberson can be dangerous under the basket along the baseline. Instead, the double should come from the guards, because the two guys Dixon should be willing to leave open is Kaleb Joseph and Trevor Cooney. The former has just two three pointers in ACC play, while Cooney has been one of the worst offensive players in league play. He’s coming off a horrid 1-10 game and is just 19-78 from three since January 17. Sorry, but to an opponent, there is nothing better than a guy who hits just 24% of his threes, but refuses to stop shooting.
  • Defensively the Orange are going to play the 2-3 and this year they’ve played it well. They are 5th in conference play in defensive efficiency, first in both steals and first in block%. The issue is, the Panthers are the best in the ACC at not allowing teams to swipe the ball away, third in turnover %. Yet, Pittsburgh does have the right people¬†to attack the zone. Both Jamel Artis and Sheldon Jeter have the tools to do some damage in the center of that zone. Both can attack the rim, but also can rotate out to hit some deep balls. While Artis has been one of the best scorers in the ACC lately, averaging 19.4 per in his last 10 games, Jeter has really been coming on lately. Since the Syracuse game two weeks ago, he’s finally started to get some playing time and he’s responded, doing his damage mostly with his athletic ability inside, averaging around 14 points per game, hitting 21-32 shots from two.
  • Like I mentioned up top, Pittsburgh has a couple of impressive wins at home, but on the road, they are whatever the opposite of road warriors would be. They are just 1-5 away from Pittsburgh in the ACC (that only win was a one-point overtime victory over last place Boston College), which is a bit surprising because they had so much success on the road in the conference last year, going 7-2 on the season.

WORTHLESS PREDICTION: Syracuse, 76-71

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