Whether you like the Big East or not, it's hard to argue that there's another conference tournament better than the Big East Tournament. There may be better conferences some years, but no one can match the importance and the tradition of the five-day classic in Madison Square Garden. Sure the "Big East" will continue to have their tournament there for years to come, but it'll never be the same. Not without Boeheim, Calhoun, Pitino, and so many other Big East Hall of Famers that once prowled the sidelines at the Garden.
Enough remembering what once was. On to the game, where two ACC newbies match up in a Big East quarterfinal.
While Pitt has won their past four games (albeit against easy competition), Syracuse has been spiraling downwards since the two met on February 2nd. The Orange won their next two following their loss at the Pete, but then lost five of their final eight games to end the season, including two to those hated Hoyas from Georgetown.
The second of those losses was particularly bad for the Orange. Syracuse, outside of Michael Carter-Williams, was awful on offense. James Southerland had a single point, C.J. Fair went 3-10 from the floor, Jerami Grant had two points, and the Orange went 1-11 from the perimeter. An ugly game all around for Syracuse and the Orange are falling at the wrong time as they head to Madison Square Garden.
When these two teams met back in early February, Southerland and Dajuan Coleman didn't play. And while Brandon Triche and Carter-Williams scored in double figures, both did so while shooting only 4-14 and 3-12 from the floor respectively. Only Fair had a good shooting night against the Panthers, going 9-13 with 20 points. Pitt did a good job defensively against Syracuse, holding them to 36% field goal shooting and just 3-14 from three-point range. The Panthers also won the rebounding battle and grabbed 14 offensive boards, as expected against a zone defense.
It's tough to really know how much having Southerland and Coleman will affect the Orange today when they match up with Pitt, but the team in general is really struggling against the upper echelon of teams in the Big East recently. Anything can certainly happen in Madison Square Garden, but you'd think that the Panthers would be able to get past Syracuse and make it to Friday night assuming they play well.
The Panthers have had favorable Big East Tournament draws recently and been unable to take advantage of them. But for Pitt to make it to the semifinals, they'll have to lock down the perimeter again. The Orange aren't a particular big threat from deep and despite them shooting 9-15 from three-point range against Seton Hall yesterday, I have my doubts as to whether Syracuse can do the same against one of the better defenses in the conference. The Panthers will also need to keep the scorers at bay. Southerland, Fair, and Triche all had efficient scoring games against the Pirates. All of them can be in double figures for all I care, as long as Pitt is forcing them to take a lot of shots to get there.
Offensively, there are few coaches that I would trust more than Jamie Dixon at breaking down the zone. He knows how to slice through Boeheim's defense. Pitt has to generate second chance points. They can't miss the easy put backs. The Panthers have shot above 40% from the perimeter the past 2 games and will have to continue that against the Orange today.
If anything, this week should all be about building and maintaining momentum. Pitt has come in hot before and lost early and while that shouldn't affect this team heading into the NCAA Tournament, the past three tournament winners have all made the Final Four. Whoever can get hot now is capable of making a deep run in the Tournament next week. Pitt has a favorable opponent awaiting them in the semifinals should they get there. In their final Big East Tournament, what better time than now to remind the rest of the Big East who has been the dominant program in the conference over the past decade.