Syracuse head basketball coach Jim Boeheim has been saying it all season long. The Orange (men) are not as good as their ranking.
That proved to be the case Monday night as third-ranked Syracuse suffered another loss to No. 4 Pittsburgh, 74-66.
It’s the Orange’s eighth loss to Pitt in nine games and first defeat of the season, snapping their 18-game winning streak.
The Panthers have owned Syracuse in recent years and Monday night was no different. They carved up Boeheim’s 2-3 zone and shot 48.2 percent from the field, nearly 15 points higher than Syracuse’s season average.
The Panthers also took advantage of a short-handed ‘Cuse squad that was without leading scorer Kris Joseph. Joseph never made the trip to Pittsburgh after suffering a head injury over the weekend.
That loss hurt Syracuse early on, especially on defense. Pittsburgh opened the game on a 19-0 run, including nine straight points by Nasir Robinson who finished with a game-high 21 points—14 points higher than his season average.
Syracuse finally settled down and responded with a 17-0 run to get back into the game but never took the lead thanks to a Pitt offense that seemed to answer every bucket.
Pitt definitely deserved the win, out-rebounding the Orange by 14, but it was their execution on offense that won the game.
Panthers head coach Jamie Dixon has definitely figured out the 2-3 zone that Boeheim has made famous over his 35-year career. Pitt screened up top, penetrated the seams and ran guys on the baseline for easy buckets all night long.
Pitt also got help from its home crowd at the Peterson Events Center, a place they’ve now won 51 of its last 52 games. The crowd definitely intimidated some of Syracuse’s freshmen, especially on the frontline with Fab Melo and Baye Keita playing a combined eight minutes. Sophomore James Southerland, who started in place of Joseph, also looked lost at times on the defense.
It’s not all bad for Syracuse, who shot just 39 percent from the field. The Orange battled back from a 19-point deficit in one of the toughest environments in college basketball. Jim Boeheim also saw the growth and maturity of his two freshmen guards C.J. Fair and Dion Waiters. Fair finished with a season-high 16 points and nine rebound while Waiters added nine points and six boards.
Guard play was very inconsistent Monday night, especially with Scoop Jardine running the point. Jardine’s shot selection was questionable at best and shot 4-of-13 from the field for 12 points. Brandon Triche added 11 despite sitting for most of the second half because of the play of Fair and Waiters.
Pitt looks like a Final Four team and Syracuse could be one as well. Boeheim is probably right that this team is slightly overrated at this point but they have the potential to be a great team down the stretch.
Rick Jackson is a double-double machine, Joseph is a versatile scorer and Triche has been shooting with consistency from the outside. If they can be more active in the 2-3 zone and continue to develop Keita, Melo, Fair and Waiters then this team will be a dangerous one come March.
There are no moral victories in the Big East but giving Pittsburgh everything it can handle on its home floor without their top scorer says a lot about the potential on this team.
There is no time to sit and sulk either. They host seventh-ranked Villanova at the Carrier Dome on Saturday. The Wildcats are coming off a last-second loss at UConn on Monday.