Still on a high from Tyus Battle’s game-winning, buzzer-beater, three-point shot that secured the win for Syracuse over Clemson on Tuesday night, the Orange is once again looking like its old self. Now on a five-game win streak, SU’s tournament hopes are back in conversation.
But before we get carried away in the moment, let’s remember that there are still six games left in the season, each with the potential of determining Syracuse’s 2016-2017 campaign’s fate. The most immediate challenge for the Orange is playing Pittsburgh for the second time this season, this time on the road.
Here are some aspects of the matchup to keep in mind:
The Panthers have not Been Playing Well Since the Start of ACC Play
Pittsburgh has fallen into the pit(t).
Like Clemson, after a great start to the season, the Panthers seem to have lost their way against ACC opponents. Pittsburgh began the season at an impressive 11-2, but since then have fallen to a 13-11 mark after going 2-9 in the ACC.
Pittsburgh did break an eight-game losing streak on Wednesday against Boston College, a team that has also faltered since starting conference play. They also had relatively well-played and close games in the three losses before Wednesday against Clemson (67-60), North Carolina (80-78) and Duke (72-64).
The Panthers have not been doing well as of late and, despite Wednesday’s win, are still fighting against low momentum.
So much so that Pittsburgh has become a team that can be pushed to the side in light of more worthy opponents, in Duke’s eyes. Duke didn’t even mention Pittsburgh on the broadcast cheat sheet, simply calling the Panthers “The Team Before Carolina”: http://www.espn.com/espn/now?nowId=21-0619594233875013207-4
But SU knows better than any team as it plays the Panthers following a one-point victory over the Tigers as time expired on Tuesday: a drowning cat is not one that cannot still fight.
Pittsburgh Features the Top Two Scorers in the ACC
Michael Young and Jamel Artis have scored the most and second-most points in the ACC this year, respectively. And the two are competing for the top spot.
Heading into the game Pitt played on Wednesday against Boston College, Artis was the leading scorer in the conference. Then Young matched a career-high 30 points in the game — dropping 19 of those in the second half to lead the Panthers to the win — while Artis scored just six points in the game.
Young is now the top scorer in the ACC (and 25th in the NCAA), scoring 20.8 points per game. Artis is now the second highest scorer in the conference (and 40th in the NCAA), scoring 20.0 points per game.
The Orange defense will have to guard against these two players throughout the game on Saturday, as they each average over 33 minutes per game.
Learning from Last Time: Pittsburgh had More Life in the Second Half, and Syracuse was Able to Score
We got a first taste of Saturday’s matchup just over one month ago in the Carrier Dome on January 7.
That game was all Syracuse in the first half. Pittsburgh only made six of 29 shots along with nine free throws for a total 21 points in the first half. That included the Panthers going 0-7 on three-point shots in those first 20 minutes of play.
Pittsburgh only had half as much offense as Syracuse in the first half, down 42-21 at halftime.
But then Pitt came back stronger in the second half. The Panthers did much better offensively, hitting 14 of 28 field goals, six of 12 threes and 11 of 14 free throws to outscore SU 45-35 in the final 20 minutes of play.
Despite the semi-comeback, Pittsburgh fell 77-66.
For the Orange, White III (21) and Gillon (20) both scored 20 plus points, followed by Battle (15) and Lydon (13) who also scored double digits.
Meanwhile, Gillon also had 11 of the Orange’s 17 assists.
Even though Syracuse has had relatively good offence recently, Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh might be lower scoring than the last time the teams met. In their recent games against North Carolina and Duke, the Panthers milked the clock when they had the ball and shot late in the shot clock in what seemed to be an attempt to keep the number of possessions in the game low.
If Syracuse keeps this in mind and continues to ride the wave of success it has experienced over the past five games, fans should have yet another interesting game to watch as the regular season nears its close.
Published: David Edelstein