Syracuse is off to its best start in school history thanks to an inspired defensive effort leading to a 71-63 win over the Pitt Panthers.
The Orange (20-0, 7-0 Big East) had a previous best of 19 wins to start a season in 1999-2000 and breached that mark against a Pitt team it hadn’t beaten since the 2006 Big East Tournament. The win also gave coach Jim Boeheim win No. 876, placing him in a tie with Adolph Rupp for No. 4 on the all-time Division I wins list. If Syracuse stays perfect, Boeheim can pass Dean Smith for No. 3 all time with a win at St. John’s on Feb. 4.
Syracuse played its usual brand of defense leading the offense, but a few things were noteworthy in this game that will be a sign of things to come as the Orange pass into the third trimester of the regular season.
Here’s what we saw.
After starting the game outscoring Pitt 13-0, the Orange let the Panthers chip away at the lead to close it to 19-14. In response, Syracuse went to the press that we saw against Providence on Saturday.
Pitt didn’t have a difficult time getting the ball through the press, but it got anxious once the ball was close to the rim and the Panthers made a lot of sloppy mistakes.
The press is something Coach Boeheim is experimenting with, and if the Orange players can learn their assignments within the press, it will be yet another powerful weapon in the Orange defensive arsenal.
The interesting thing is they pulled out the press during a pivotal point in the early part of the game. I don’t believe Boeheim was taking the Panthers lightly, but it seemed he was using this game to test his press for future games as if it were a regular-season practice.
The Orange players were lucky Pitt got sloppy with the ball. Once the press is broken near half court, the wings must immediately sprint up the court to lessen the chance of a two-on-one break. Fortunately for Syracuse, the key to the trap is to keep the ball out of the hands of a ball-handler and the players who received the ball made poor decisions.
It will be interesting to see if Syracuse unveils its press and what adjustments it makes against Notre Dame this Saturday.
There’s been a lot of buzz about Syracuse not having a go-to scorer and that the leadership on this team can change from night to night.
Jim Boeheim cleared this up in the post-game conference.
He’s the only leader on the team—he is the leader of this team. He is the only vocal leader. He is a guy who will make plays and is not afraid to make plays—good plays. When he shoots the ball well he is one of the best point guards in the league, if not the best point guard in the league. He would lead the league in assists if he was playing the minutes that the other point guards are playing. He is playing 20 minutes a game—but he is as good as anybody and he shoots the ball well.
The last time Boeheim had one of his player’s back this strongly was when Gerry McNamara was being discounted as overrated. I’ll trust Boeheim’s assessment on this one.
When a team is successful, analysts need talking points to let the public know they know what they’re talking about. When a team such as Syracuse gets the amount of publicity it has, those talking points run dry and analysts need to find new ways to dissect said team.
Syracuse has played unselfish basketball throughout the season. The Orange get criticized for not having a go-to scorer, when the fact is they haven’t needed one. They’ve had the luxury of different players stepping up in opportune times, so there hasn’t been any pressure-filled moments where Syracuse needed a basket to win a game.
After watching the Pitt game and the analysis afterward, it seems the new trend is to view the Syracuse half-court offense as a weakness. This is simply not the case, and if teams try to play a zone against Syracuse—as Jay Bilas suggested during the telecast—Syracuse will eat that team alive.
Syracuse plays the best zone defense in the country and consequently must practice against the best zone defense in the country. There’s nothing another coach can show Syracuse in a half-court zone that it doesn’t show itself in practice.
A poor shooting night against the zone could be the downfall of Syracuse, but it would have to be a terrible shooting night, considering the depth of the bench. This isn’t revolutionary being that most teams cannot survive a poor shooting night.
This also isn’t analysis, it’s guessing.
Syracuse normally gets a Herculean effort from its bench, and the game against Pitt was no exception, with the bench scoring 25 points. Dion Waiters scored 16 of these points, leaving only seven for C.J. Fair and two for James Southerland.
This put a little more weight on the starters, to which they responded in kind. Every starter, excluding Rakeem Christmas, who only played seven minutes, scored in double figures to tally 46 points for the first responders. Fab Melo put up 10 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked six shots, while Scoop Jardine scored 12 and gave out 10 assists.
The Pitt bench scored 30 points, marking only the third time this season the Orange bench would be outscored by its opponent’s bench. Syracuse has been just fine allowing the bench to play just as big a role in the offense, if not bigger. Coach Boeheim should feel comforted that his starters can rise to the occasion when the bench isn’t the centerpiece.
While the Syracuse 2-3 zone can be stifling to opposing teams, star players can also be the target of the Orange defense.
There are players who will get their points no matter what a defense throws at them. Syracuse has done a great job at keeping those players under control.
Pitt’s Ashton Gibbs, Villanova’s Maalik Wayns and Seton Hall’s Herb Pope have scored a combined 51.8 points per game (17.2 per game individually). Against Syracuse, they combined for a total of 17 points (5.6 individually).
Great players put themselves in positions to have great nights. Syracuse identifies those players and diminishes those opportunities greatly.