Syracuse and Pittsburgh square off for the second time this season, with the Orange winning the first meeting 77-61. Here are five keys to this meeting that will go a long way towards determining the outcome.
1. Battle of the Bigs
Pittsburgh's best player is center John Hugley. Hugley is averaging 16 points and eight rebounds per game. He also attempts nearly eight free throws per game. Jesse Edwards has become one of Syracuse's best players on both ends of the floor. He averages 12 points, seven rebounds and three blocks per game while shooting over 70% from the floor. In the first meeting, Edwards got the better of the two. Hugley was just 1-6 shooting and was held to half his season average. Edwards was right at his season averages with 12 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Pittsburgh needs to get Hugley going to have a shot, while Syracuse is hoping Edwards can neutralize him once again.
2. Outside Shooting
Pittsburgh is the worst three point shooting team in the ACC, while Syracuse is sixth. The two teams defend the three at about the same clip (allowing opponent's to shoot 34% from three). How each performs from beyond the arc will be critical. In the first meeting, Pittsburgh was 5-12 (42%) in the first half from deep, and trailed by only one. The Panthers were just 2-10 from distance in the second half, and was outscored by 15. The Pitt shooters Syracuse needs to keep an eye on are Jamarius Burton, Mouhamadou Gueye and Femi Odukale.
3. Syracuse's Guard Rotation
Symir Torrence will miss this game due to knee injury (no timetable for his return, Jim Boeheim said during Monday's ACC teleconference he would be out for "a little while"). With him out, it prevents Syracuse from turning to Torrence when a better ball handler is needed. It also takes away the three guard lineup with him at point guard, Joe Girard at shooting guard and Buddy Boeheim at small forward. How will Syracuse rotate the guards? Will Girard and Buddy play 40 minutes each? Will Syracuse turn to someone else to spell them for a few minutes? That will be an interesting strategic item to watch in this game. Coach Boeheim indicated during that conference call that Cole Swider has practiced at the two and will be the first option. Walk-on Paddy Casey is also an option according to coach Boeheim.
4. Paint Points
Pittsburgh is not a great shooting team, so it relies on points in the paint for a lot of its offense. Especially running things through Hugley inside. Syracuse did a good job in the first meeting at preventing easy looks in there, holding the Panthers to just 16 points in the paint. The Orange, on the other hand, had success attacking the basket with 32 points in the paint. Pittsburgh does not have a lot of rim protection, so Syracuse will likely look for more of the same. The key will be whether or not the Orange defense is up to the task of repeating the performance in the first game. Jesse Edwards staying out of foul trouble will be an important aspect of that.
5. Free Throws
Syracuse is seventh in the ACC in free throw shooting at over 72%, while Pittsburgh is 14th at 68.7%. In the first meeting, each team had a lot of free throw attempts. Syracuse had 31 (making 26) while the Panthers had 26 (making 18). Who gets to the line the most will be important as will making those shots.