Keys for Syracuse to earn revenge over Pittsburgh in the Big East tournament quarterfinals
The last time Syracuse played Pittsburgh, it had a thin bench and was coming off a disappointing overtime loss to Villanova the week before. Now one day after having one of its best offensive games of the season, the Orange gets another shot at the Panthers with a deeper bench.
But the key for SU could be James Southerland. He hit six 3-pointers against Seton Hall on Wednesday. Southerland stretches the floor out for Syracuse, opening up the middle for Michael Carter-Williams to drive and finish, or drive and kick out to the arc.
That being said, Pittsburgh is one of the best defensive teams in the Big East. It’s not going to be an easy game for SU against the physical Panthers. Here are three things the Orange needs to do Thursday to earn revenge over Pittsburgh.
1. Get Southerland the ball
Southerland had nine 3-point attempts on Wednesday. He made six long 3-pointers. No matter what Seton Hall did, the Pirates couldn’t stop Southerland. Time and again, he was ready and waiting on the arc, and Carter-Williams always seemed to find him.
He has to continue to do that against Pittsburgh.
Southerland has a 3-inch height advantage over 6-foot-5 Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh’s small forward. The Panthers have to respect Southerland’s shot and defend him on the arc. That will help clear the way for Syracuse’s big men to go to work on the inside. Plus, Southerland has momentum coming off a hot-shooting performance. If he continues to shoot like he did Wednesday, Southerland can be a determining factor in whether or not Syracuse advances to the Big East tournament semifinals.
2. Crash the offensive glass
Syracuse shot 56.3 percent on Wednesday in one of the Orange’s best offensive displays this season. But SU has shown that it can be streaky. It can hit shots all night in one game, and then struggle tremendously from the outside in the next one. Which Syracuse team shows up Thursday remains to be seen.
But what’s certain is that Pittsburgh is a great rebounding team. Pittsburgh leads the Big East in rebounding margin at plus-6.9. Back on Feb. 2, the Panthers outrebounded the Orange 39-24.
That can’t happen again Thursday.
If the Orange starts missing shots again, it needs to crash the offensive glass hard to earn extra opportunities. And Syracuse’s centers, Rakeem Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita, have to be physical in the low post and get putbacks. The two combined for only six rebounds and three points against Pittsburgh on Feb. 2. Getting more production from both on Thursday would be big for Syracuse, and that’s especially true on the offensive glass if the Orange goes cold from the outside again.
3. Stop Tray Woodall
This is obvious, but it could be the most important thing Syracuse needs to do: Slow down Tray Woodall. The Pittsburgh guard is averaging 16.2 points in his last five games. He’s shooting 56 percent from the field during that same span. If that’s not enough, he also managed to hand out 11 assists two games ago against Villanova.
Woodall’s perhaps the most dangerous offensive player for Pittsburgh, and shutting him down would severely hinder the Panthers’ offense.
Pittsburgh is first in the Big East in field-goal percentage at 47.9 percent, but Syracuse is first in field-goal percentage defense, holding opponents to 37.6 percent. Woodall presents the Orange defense’s next challenge.
Prediction: Syracuse has some momentum right now coming off a great shooting performance. Having Southerland back will give the Orange a different look from the last time SU played Pittsburgh, and the Panthers won’t have home-court advantage like it did on Feb. 2. Madison Square Garden might be considered a neutral court, but MSG is the Orange’s home away from home.
It’ll be a tight game, but Syracuse wins 64-60.
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