James Robinson 6'3" 198 JR. 10.1 Points/Game. 5.1 Assists/Game. 3.4 Rebounds/Game.
This matchup is heavily in favor of Pittsburgh, as the Panthers will trot out their veteran junior point guard, James Robinson against true freshman, Kaleb Joseph. In fact, Joseph was not expected to be the starting point guard at this point in his career, but Tyler Ennis left early and there were no other options outside of Joseph to take his place, thus putting Jim Boeheim and Syracuse in a bit of a bind.
Kaleb Joseph is not much of a scoring threat, as he has only tallied double figure points in five games this season. Joseph has only attempted 23 three-pointers this season, and has made just five of them. He does put up a solid 4.6 assists per game, but commits 2.7 turnovers a game as well. The freshman has struggled recently and is only averaging 4 points over his past three games. Joseph logged just 17 minutes of action in Syracuse's narrow win over Virginia Tech on Tuesday.
James Robinson has picked up his play of late, and we are starting to see him as more of a complete player. Robinson has averaged 11 points and 7 assists over his past four games, including a masterful 15 point 10 assist performance last Saturday in a win over then #8 ranked Notre Dame. The junior point guard has had his share of struggles this season, but has seemingly picked up his play recently. If his hot play continues, Pitt should be in good shape.
Josh Newkirk 6'1" 185 SO. 7.1 P/G 3.4 A/G 1.3 R/G
Trevor Cooney 6'4" 195 JR. 14.9 P/G 2.3 A/G 2.5 R/G
Trevor Cooney is Syracuse's second leading scorer, and is one of the most lethal three-point shooters in the ACC. Cooney averages 14 points a game, and is hitting 38% of his three's, while having attempted over 150 of them. Like most good shooters, Cooney can be a streaky player as far as his offensive production goes. He has been pretty good in ACC play so far, as he has gone over 20 points in three conference games. Syracuse relies on Cooney to help handle the ball some with Joseph's struggles this year.
Josh Newkirk will be making his third career start tomorrow afternoon. The sophomore guard has been inserted into the lineup to help open up the offense, and Pitt is 2-0 with him playing extended minutes. Newkirk is a streaky player that has struggled this season, but in his two starts he has dished out eight assists to just one turnover, a major improvement to his season ratio. Newkirk took nine three pointers against Bryant on Monday night, and that is probably not ideal for this team. Still, he has to be able to knock down some open shots to keep defenses honest.
Pitt needs Newkirk to score some points, limit turnovers, and get into the soft spots of the Syracuse 2-3 zone with his quickness. Trevor Cooney is a player that will be counted on by Boeheim to score points, and he is very capable of going off for a big day. Syracuse has the advantage in this matchup, but Newkirk can still make a positive impact in this game.
Cameron Wright 6'5" 205 SR 9.6 P/G 3.3 R/G 2.8 A/G
Michael Gbinije 6'7" 200 JR 11.4 P/G 4.9 R/G 3.4 A/G
Michael Gbinije is one of the most improved players on this Syracuse team. He went from scoring just 3 points a game last year, and is now one of the team's most valuable players. The junior small forward has upped his averages during conference play and has really stepped up for Jim Boeheim this season. The Orange have dealt with some serious injuries this year, and he had no choice but to step up his play.
Gibinije is a good all around threat that can hit the long ball, distribute and run the offense, and can even stick his nose in there and rebound. He is a pesky defender in the 2-3 zone, and pulled in four steals on Tuesday in their win against Virginia Tech. Gibinije is a versatile player that resembles many talented Syracuse small forwards that have preceded him.
Pitt has "gone small" in their past two games with Newkirk being moved into the starting lineup, and Cameron Wright sliding on down to the small forward spot. Wright has been playing much better in his past three games after some forgettable showings against Duke and Louisville. Wright has been sticking a lot of his mid-range jump shots and that is when he is at his best.
Both players in this battle are instrumental to their team's success. Pitt needs Wright to hit his jump shots, play good defense, and make smart plays with the ball. If he lays an egg like he has at times this season, Pitt will have a tough time overcoming that. Gibinije also needs to do a lot of the little things for Syracuse to win this game, I worry most about Wright if the lengthy Gibinjie is guarding him defensively.
Jamel Artis 6'7" 220 SO. 12.4 P/G 5.5 R/G 2 A/G
Tyler Roberson 6'8" 212 SO. 7.3 P/G 7.3 R/G 1.4 A/G
Tyler Roberson has been inserted into the starting lineup the past six games with freshman Chris McCullough going down with a season-ending injury. The sophomore forward from New Jersey has played well in his new role, especially on the glass. Roberson has pulled down double digit rebounds in four of his six starts. Roberson has logged plenty of minutes lately, and getting him in foul trouble would really hurt a thin Syracuse team.
Jamel Artis has been emerging as a go-to-guy for Jamie Dixon of late. A light has seemingly gone on for the sophomore forward about three weeks ago, and Artis is looking like a budding star for this team. The Baltimore native is averaging 21 points a game in his past six, including a 32 point career-high last time out against Bryant on Monday. He has increased his scoring average from around 9 points a game up to 12 in a matter of three weeks.
I believe this is a matchup that favors Pitt, given Artis' emergence of late. The sophomore forward is becoming a serious scoring threat. Artis is a good passer, and going up against the 2-3 zone, he can play a huge role in breaking down the zone. Roberson is a different kind of player, and probably has an edge in athleticism, but Artis won't let that bother him too much.
Michael Young 6'9" 235 SO. 13.2 P/G 7.8 R/G 1 A/G
Rakeem Christmas 6'9" 250 SR 18.3 P/G 9.1 R/G 1.4 A/G
Rakeem Christmas is probably going to win Most Improved Player in the ACC this season, and he very well could be the most improved player in the entire country - seriously. Christmas played the past two seasons as a guy logging just 20 minutes a game and posting around 5 points and 5 rebounds a game, and now he is putting up 18 and 9 a contest.
Christmas is a physical post player with good touch down low. He has recorded eight double-doubles this season, and has been a consistent threat all year long. Christmas makes this team go, and he is the focal point of this offense. Syracuse is very limited depth-wise and nobody on their bench can come in and keep Christmas' productivity.
Mike Young is also having quite the turnaround from last season, but his progression was a bit more expected. Young has assumed the role as the team's top scorer and rebounder. Young has taken on playing the center position, despite him being a natural power forward. He has responded to the position change well, but hits some road blocks going up against taller and thicker defenders.
Young has been fairly solid in ACC play, but he will be up against it banging inside against Rakeem Christmas. Mike Young will have to use his versatility and maybe draw Christmas outside the paint and hit some jump shots, and take him off the bounce. Christmas will get his points inside, but Young will have to stay out of foul trouble as he is Pitt's best answer to the Orange big man.
Chris Jones (8.7 P/G) Sheldon Jeter (2.9 P/G) Ryan Luther (2.2 P/G) Derrick Randall (1.6 P/G)
B.J. Johnson (3.6 P/G) Ron Patterson (2.6 P/G)
Syracuse only goes about seven deep, as they had to move sixth man, Tyler Roberson, into the starting lineup a few weeks ago to accommodate Chris McCullough's injury. Neither player on Boeheim's bench is an instant impact guy, and they are more just to give their starters a break for a few minutes at a time. BJ Johnson has failed to appear in four of the team's ACC games, and has not played more than seven minutes in the five games he did play.
Ron Patterson's role has certainly expanded as recently as three weeks ago. The sophomore guard is averaging 20 minutes over the course of the past three games. Patterson is supposed to be a good shooter, but has struggled mightily all year long to find his stroke.
Pitt is not a very deep team, but they hold an advantage over Syracuse. Pitt has a new sixth man, but he is a good one. Chris Jones has been starting all year up until the Notre Dame game, and has had a pretty solid sophomore season. Jones has scored in double figures in ten contests this year, and could provide a good scoring threat off the bench. His play has been a little erratic, but it would not be unheard of for him to score 12 points and knock down some big shots.
Pitt can also turn to Sheldon Jeter and Ryan Luther to provide minutes at the forwards spots, and they can buy a few minutes with Derrick Randall and Joe Uchebo at center. While Pitt may not get a ton of production from these guys, they have more bodies to turn to if the game becomes a physical foul-fest like Pitt/Syracuse games tend to be.