Syracuse plays in the second round of the ACC Tournament against old Big East foe Pitt for a 9:30 p.m. tip. Ahead of the game, The Juice Online’s Wes Cheng and Steve Auger give their predictions below.
STEVE AUGER (Season Record 4-0): One of the hardest feats to accomplish in any sport is to beat a foe three times in one season. The Syracuse Orange will attempt to turn that trick against Pittsburgh in the second round of the ACC Tournament on Wednesday evening.
The Panthers have taken their share of lumps in Jeff Capel’s second season at the helm. Pitt tied Notre Dame for last place in the ACC with a record of 3-and-15. Before beating the Irish in the season finale, Pitt had dropped 13 straight league games.
Syracuse beat the Panthers by scores of 74-63 in the Carrier Dome and 65-56 on the road. While neither game was a dominant Orange win, Syracuse managed to get enough separation to win both contests somewhat comfortably.
One of the biggest reasons for Syracuse’s success in both games was poor shooting by the Panthers.
Combined, Pitt shot an abysmal 40-of-165 from the floor. Good for about 33 percent. They were even worse from beyond the arc converting on just 16-of-57, or, 28 percent.
The Panthers’ best shooting performance was from the charity stripe, which, was hardly charitable. Pitt shot 23-of-36; just about 64 percent.
So, what did Syracuse do well in both wins? A few things.
The Orange contributed to Pitt’s shooting struggles by blocking 16 shots. Syracuse averaged 4.8 BPG on the year.
Syracuse was also lights-out from three in the first win as the Orange connected on 12-of-26 attempts. In the win at Pitt, the Orange was clutch from the free throw line converting 14-of-17 shots.
Pitt comes into the contest with some momentum having won back-to-back games for the first time since late December. Syracuse struggled down the stretch. The Orange limped to the finish line of the regular season by dropping four of its last five games.
Similar to the previous two games, the Orange will have just enough in the tank to beat Pitt, 74-67.
WES CHENG (Season Record: 9-6): Pitt’s ‘Big 3’ of guards Xavier Johnson, Jared Wilson-Frame, and Trey McGowens scored 65 of Pitt’s 80 points in an 80-70 win over Boston College on Tuesday evening to advance to the second round of the ACC Tournament.
Pitt, with just three ACC wins, won back-to-back conference games for the first time since February, 2017. And for a team that is ranked 158th in the country in offensive efficiency according to KenPom, the Panthers looked plenty fluid during a 23-5 first half run which resulted in a 36-21 lead at halftime.
Fortunately for Syracuse, Pitt’s young core hasn’t figured out how to attack the 2-3 zone yet. In two regular season losses to the Orange, the Panthers shot 31.6 percent (5 for 22 from 3-point land) and 33.8 percent (11 for 35).
Syracuse’s defense was truly the difference in the second game played at Pitt, with the Orange needing to overcome Tyus Battle’s 2-13, six point performance.
Johnson and McGowens look like legitimate NBA prospects, but for the time being, I expect Syracuse to take a third game against the Panthers, 65-60 in what will be an old school, grind-it-out, Big East matchup.