Syracuse Orange v. Pittsburgh Panthers Prediction & Preview (1/6/21)

Jan 19, 2019; Syracuse, NY, USA; Syracuse Orange forward Marek Dolezaj (21) looks to pass while being defended by Pittsburgh Panthers guard Au'Diese Toney (5) during the second half of the Orange's 74-63 win over Pitt at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

After a three game pause due to COVID-19 protocols, Syracuse returns to action on Wednesday, hosting Pittsburgh at 4:30 p.m. (TV: ACC Network). Ahead of the game, The Juice Online’s Sam Vescovi and Wes Cheng give their predictions below.

bradSam Vescovi
Season Record: 0-0

Pitt hasn’t been known for shooting the ball well under head coach Jeff Capel. Instead, they have been focused on beating opponents off the dribble, then dishing the ball to the open man for a clean look.

In the early Capel era, few players could shoot with consistency. Last year, the Panthers shot just 29.6 percent from downtown. The year before that was only marginally better at 33.1 percent.

Capel upgraded the Panthers’ outside shooting in the offseason by courting transfers guards Ithiel Horton and Nike Sibande, and it’s paid off so far. Horton is shooting 40.9 percent through six games, while Sibande, since being ruled eligible, has hit two of his four 3s in two games.

That said, the Panthers are still only hitting 31.3 percent of their shots so far in 2020-21, and have been mostly inconsistent. Justin Campagnie leads the team with 17.8 ppg, but also shoots 25 percent from distance.

I don’t see the Panthers having enough offense in this one to win, as Syracuse pulls away with a 71-59 win.

» Related: Syracuse returns to action after long COVID-19 pause

wesWes Cheng
Season Record 2-0

Syracuse is finishing up its second pause of the season because of COVID.

The Orange took two weeks off in November, and was nearly upset by Bryant in the season opener, 85-84. The ultimate decision to play after the time off was an “unbelievable mistake,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said after the game, underscoring how important practice time is, even for a veteran team.

It’s been 17 days since Syracuse last played Buffalo on Dec. 19 and was forced to pause, which seems like months, instead of weeks, ago. The Orange 2-3 zone is predicated on timing and cohesiveness, and with four weeks now lost to contact tracing, no doubt Boeheim’s vaunted defense will look sluggish in their 2021 debut.

That said, Pitt is in a similar situation. The Panthers last played in a Dec. 22 loss to Louisville, and saw their games against Duke and Notre Dame postponed after positive tests within the program. Head coach Jeff Capel also missed the Louisville game because he tested positive.

All that likely makes for a sloppy, low scoring game. The Panthers were already ranked 120th in college basketball in KenPom’s adjusted offense rankings, and as my esteemed colleague Sam points out above, Pittsburgh’s offense has been inconsistent at best, ranking 208th in the NCAA in scoring at 72.0 points per game.

The Orange is a better offensive team, averaging 83.7 ppg (32nd overall) and is also a solid, though not spectacular, 51st in adjusted offensive rankings. But SU has also been inconsistent this year, especially from 3-point land. The Orange is a combined 32.0 percent from downtown, though it’s likely that Buddy Boeheim (25.9 percent) will (positively) regress to his mean at some point.

It won’t be pretty, but the Orange has just enough scoring down the stretch, and Bourama Sidibe’s return will be welcomed in a 51-46 Syracuse win.

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