Syracuse begins the ACC part of its schedule when it hosts Pittsburgh on Tuesday at 9 p.m. at the JMA Wireless Dome. TV: ESPNU. Here are three things to watch for in the game.
Will Chris Bell continue to rebound?
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim has said it many times this season: He needs his starting freshman wing Chris Bell to rebound. Despite averaging 20.3 minutes per game, he’s averaging just 1.4 rebounds per game. Bell may have finally gotten the message. Bell collected a career-high five rebounds against Cornell on Saturday, and Boeheim called Bell’s performance the difference as the Orange rallied from an early deficit. “I would say so,” when Bell was asked if this was his most well-rounded performance of the season. Consistency is key, though, and Bell will need to keep that aggression as SU enters the beginning of its conference schedule.
Will Syracuse get Jesse Edwards involved again?
Time and time again, we’ve said here that Jesse Edwards should be Syracuse’s No. 1 option on offense. That hasn’t been the case recently. Edwards has only averaged 6.5 shots a game in the past two games and just 11.5 ppg. That’s a far cry from the three game stretch before that, when he averaged 20 points and 11.3 rebounds against Georgetown, Oakland and Notre Dame. Syracuse needs to get Edwards involved in the offense early and often against Pitt if it wants to continue its winning streak.
Which reserve wing will get playing time?
Jim Boeheim has mixed and matched his bench depending on the opponent and who has the hot hand. At times, Boeheim has leaned on veteran forward John Bol Ajak, who doesn’t provide much offensive punch, but also understands the defensive rotations in the 2-3 zone and also keeps the ball moving on offense. Justin Taylor broke out with 26 points against Bryant, but has been scoreless in his last three games. Quadir Copeland has mostly fallen out of the rotation, but has appeared in spot duty at wing. On Saturday, it was Maliq Brown’s time to shine, as he played 13 minutes off the bench, scoring 4 points and adding 4 rebounds, some of it coming as a reserve center. Which backup wing will play against Pitt? That will be an evergreen question throughout the season until someone solidifies the top reserve spot.
Two teams with a long history of tough basketball from their Big East days. Two groups that are 8-4. Two teams coming into the game strong after a difficult start to the season. Pittsburgh vs. Syracuse is back, and this game is more important than games of the past as both teams need to win this game to keep their trajectory going in the right path.
Jesse Edwards vs. Federiko Federiko will be an excellent test for both players down low. Joseph Girard vs. Greg Elliot will be a clash of the snipers from behind the arc. Judah Mintz going up against Nelly Cummings will be a fun battle of freshman firepower vs. veteran wisdom. The x-factor, though, will be how Syracuse handles Blake Hinson. If Benny Williams and Chris Bell can shut him down, I think this game tilts Syracuse’s favor.
This game can go either way, and it would be unwise to bet since so many factors could cause either team to win by a slight margin. I predict that Pitt sneaks past Syracuse in this round with a slim margin of victory due to their veterans. Final Score: Pitt 75, Syracuse 71.