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It wasn't so long ago that everyone was all over Pittsburgh as an underrated team with a 16-1 record. After some difficult opponents, perceptions are a bit different on the Panthers these days. A win here over Syracuse would be huge for them in getting a top five seed in the NCAA tourney.
However, if Pitt continues their current play, they may end up as an eight or nine seed. The Panthers have lost to the three best teams in the ACC, so there's not a ton of fault in that except two of those games were at home. Following up those losses, the Panthers needed overtime to beat Miami (FL) and two overtimes to beat Virginia Tech (8-15 overall record) at home. While they got the wins, that's not exactly how you want to play.
As for the Orange, they are coming off three straight home wins, including an OT win over Duke. This team doesn't exactly blow opponents out, but they have covered in four straight road games if that says anything. With the way Syracuse plays defense, it's going to be interesting to see how Pittsburgh gets its scoring.
It starts with Lamar Patterson (17.2 PPG) for the Panthers on the offensive end. This team has had problems lately because Patterson has struggled. He was just 1-for-9 for five points in 44 minutes against Virginia Tech. Against the zone, he'll have to do a lot better than that and if Patterson's shots aren't falling, Pitt will be in trouble. Talib Zanna (12.5 PPG) has also struggled in recent games, scoring under his season average in four straight. Zanna went for 12 points and 11 rebounds against 'Cuse in the first matchup.
The good news for Pittsburgh is that they've had some other guys step up lately. Cameron Wright and James Robinson have been important reasons for why this team walked away with wins in the last two games.
Of course, you can't completely ignore the Pitt defense which is one of the best in the conference and held the Orange to 59 points the first time around. Syracuse doesn't have the type of offense that Duke boasts, but as seen in their undefeated record, they've done enough.
When these teams played in Syracuse three weeks ago, the Orange did what was needed at the end of the game to get the win. They held Patterson to 6-of-15 (4-of-9 from three) shooting which was just enough.
On the road, Syracuse's offense will need to do a little more in this matchup. They had four guys in double figures in the first game, but none of them had more than 16 points and the rest of the roster combined for just eight points.
Trevor Cooney will be the guy to watch as he had 12 three-pointers in two games last week. If he can keep that going, it might be trouble for Pitt. C.J. Fair (16.8 PPG) is the most important piece of this offense, though. He didn't do much in the last matchup with 13 points, but that may change in this one. Due to his shooting, Fair presents problems for anyone that guards him. Jerami Grant (12.8 PPG) and Tyler Ennis (5.7 APG) are also players to keep an eye on, especially as the Orange don't have much depth.
Obviously Syracuse wants to keep its perfect record, but this game may be more important to Pittsburgh in the long run. For a team that doesn't shoot all that great, it's going to come down to Pitt's defense and home-court advantage. Will Patterson continue to struggle or can he lead the Panthers to a big win?
Predicted Score - Pitt 63 Syracuse 60
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