The Orange is about to find out how deep its team really is.
No. 4 Syracuse (18-0, 5-0 Big East) will be without leading scorer Kris Joseph when it takes on No. 5 Pittsburgh (17-1, 5-0) on Monday. Joseph banged his head on the court during the first half of Syracuse’s 67-52 win over No. 25 Cincinnati and didn’t return.
The forward missed practice Sunday and didn’t travel with the team to Pittsburgh. Now, SU coach Jim Boeheim will need to look to his reserves to make up Joseph’s 15.3 points per game.
“Balance is always important, no question about it,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “We’ve always been balanced. We just have to be the best we can be.”
Among Boeheim’s candidates are forwards James Southerland, CJ Fair and Mookie Jones.
Southerland started the second half of Saturday’s games and finished with eight points and grabbed eight rebounds. Fair played 15 minutes and had four points and three rebounds.
“We have a deep bench,” guard Scoop Jardine said. “We haven’t really had that in previous years. We play nine or 10 guys every game now. That can only help us.”
Another factor helping the Orange is the emergence of starting center Fab Melo.
The highly touted freshman had been disappointing, averaging just 2.1 points and 1.8 rebounds in his first 17 games. But Melo came alive on Saturday with the best game of his young career, with six points, four rebounds and four blocks.
“I think [what] I do best is block shots,” Melo said. “A lot of people try to dunk on me in practice. So he try to dunk on me, I say ‘No you’re not!’ I have fun doing that – blocking shots.”
Syracuse will face a Pitt team that has only lost once this season.
The Panthers are coming off of a 74-53 win over Seton Hall at the Petersen Events Center. Center Gary McGhee scored 13 points, including six in a key 23-7 run that put the Panthers ahead for good. The win came in spite of leading scorer Ashton Gibbs (16.3 points per game) being held to just eight points on 3-for-13 shooting.
The Panthers boast one of the best home court advantages in the country, having won 49 of its last 50 games at home.
“It is definitely a true away game,” guard Brandon Triche said. “I don’t expect to see too much orange in the stands. Blue and gold will be in full effect Monday night. I’ve heard Pittsburgh is one of the toughest places to play in the country. I haven’t experienced anything like that yet.”
They have also dominated the Orange recently, winning four of the last five meetings between the two teams.
“It’ll be a tough game,” Boeheim said. “Pittsburgh is as good as any team in the country.”
Wesley Cheng is the Editor in Chief for The Juice Online.