Pitt faces Syracuse tonight in a matchup of top five teams. Surprisingly/Unsurprisingly, this isn't the first time this has happened to the Panthers as they faced UConn in a top five matchup. And if Pitt and Villanova keep winning games, their regular-season finale matchup could be yet another one.
Here's the thing about Pitt - they always seem to win these games. Heck, 'seem' isn't even the right word since the team is undefeated (8-0) at home against top five teams. There will undoubtedly be a time when Pitt finally loses at home to a top five team, I just don't know if this will be it.
For one, Syracuse is playing without maybe its best player in forward Kris Joseph. Joseph is the team's top scorer averaging about 15 points a game and second best rebounder pulling in more than five per game.
Pitt has also given the Orange fits, winning the past seven regular season games.
And of course, as sure as Pitt's opponents expect man to man defense, Syracuse brings their traditional zone. But Pitt has had pretty good success against it and Brad Wanamaker sees no reason that can't continue:
"We have a great zone offense," said senior guard Brad Wanamaker, who has 17 assists and two turnovers in his past three games. "I feel as though we pass the ball very well against their defense. We attack it."
Stiil, despite Pitt picking apart the Orange zone on a fairly regular basis, Dana O'Neill over at ESPN doesn't sound so sure they can do it on Monday:
Defense: So zone or man? Which works better? Interesting one here. Pitt long has cut its teeth and staked its reputation on its defense. Nothing’s changed. The Panthers allow only 62 points per game and find beauty in making games really ugly, playing an in-your-face, in-your-business man-to-man that harasses its opponents.
But in Syracuse, they may have met their match. Jim Boeheim’s zone is working wonders this season, allowing only 59 points per game and forcing teams into awful shots. Opponents average only 32 percent from the floor and that defense allowed the Orange to bide some time until it found its footing offensively. It also generates much of Syracuse’s offense. Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche are lethal in transition when they get going off a miss.
I'd be a lot more worried if Pitt hadn't shown the offense they have this season, but the team is shooting well from the outside and is so deep that even if certain guys don't step up (i.e. Ashton Gibbs against Seton Hall on Saturday), others are ready and willing.
Throw in the fact that Pitt is playing its best basketball of the season right now and I just don't know if the Orange can leave the Pete with a victory tonight.
There is, of course, the underdog factor. Every team coming into the Pete wants to leave with a win:
Oh, yeah. And speaking of Mr. Jardine, there are sure to be Pitt players remembering his preseason assertion that the team plays dirty:
"They play dirty," Jardine said in comments that were also published on ESPN.com, "and the refs allow it."
As I wrote back then, the dirty vs. physical thing is a great debate. I'd lean towards physical or even perhaps, rough. But I'm sure other Big East players agree with Jardine. Will Pitt let up against Scoop fearing the refs might be calling the game a little tighter than normal? Not likely.
Again, when you're playing a top five team, certainly you can't guarantee a win. But I do expect Pitt to win tonight and if they happen to lose, I'd consider it an upset.