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Pittsburgh-Syracuse Preview

Syracuse students agree: We're not on campus.

Welcome to the Big East Conference, Paul Harris.

As you will quickly notice, things in the Big East are a lot different than they were over the last three months. You see, in the Big East, you need to deal with:

  • The number one team in the country in defensive two-point field goal percentage and block percentage (Connecticut);
  • The best defensive rebounding team in the nation (Notre Dame);
  • A freaky 1-3-1 zone defense that is best in the land at forcing turnovers (West Virginia);
  • The third-best two-point shooting team in Division 1 hoops (Georgetown);
  • The nation’s second-best free throw shooting club (Villanova); and
  • A super-quick guard-oriented defense that ranks within the top-five in turnover percentage (Marquette).

Your first test? How about playing Pittsburgh, the league’s preseason favorite and the nation’s seventh most efficient offense.

Good luck, lad.

When Syracuse is on Defense

Pittsburgh Offense
Four FactorsValueNt'l Rank
Eff. FG %56.023
T/O %17.922
Off. Reb. %38.546
FT Rate22.9202

Syracuse Defense
Four FactorsValueNt'l Rank
Eff. FG %43.316
T/O %21.8184
Off. Reb. %36.0238
FT Rate25.417
There really is not a lot to dissect in this particular clash as Pittsburgh's offensive prowess so far exceeds Syracuse's defensive ability that any analysis is going to turn on subjective desire rather than an objective comparison of reality.

The scariest point of emphasis, however, is Syracuse's inability to control the defensive glass and the Panthers' ability to reasonably wipe the window on offense. With Roberts' and Gorman's injuries potentially limiting their efforts tonight, Mookie Watkins, Demetris Nichols, and Paul Harris are going to be asked to do a lot of board work.

Given their prior returns this season, though, great expectations should be severely tempered.

A secondary aspect that deserves a modicum of ink is Pittsburgh's patient attack. Generating one of the lowest paces in the country (64.4 possessions per game), the Panthers do a nice job at creating good shot opportunities (Pittsburgh is 271st in 3PA/FGA). With such a lack of emphasis on the perimeter, Pittsburgh is going to focus on carving up the Syracuse 2-3 zone for good looks. This should, for all intents and purposes, ruin any opportunity for Syracuse to establish a transition game.

When Syracuse is on Offense
Syracuse Offense
Four FactorsValueNt'l Rank
Eff. FG %53.173
T/O %21.2108
Off. Reb. %36.198
FT Rate35.36

Pittsburgh Defense
Four FactorsValueNt'l Rank
Eff. FG %44.935
T/O %18.0322
Off. Reb. %31.172
FT Rate33.1115
The one thing Pittsburgh does not do well -- force turnovers -- is connected to one of the most frustrating things that the Syracuse offense does well -- turn the ball over.
This fact, however, is a bit of a red herring as Pittsburgh does not rely on the turnover in its defensive scheme. Rather, the Panthers are looking to play tough position defense, limiting good looks, and sticking opponents on the free throw line so that they must earn their points. As Syracuse is only an average field goal shooting club (see its effective field goal percentage above) and scary inconsistent from the stripe, this should all but doom the Orange.
Is there a cure? Yes, but it is going to take a tremendous Syracuse defensive effort.
The best shot the Orange has at topping Pittsburgh is to beat the Panther defense up the floor and convert in transition. This can happen one of two ways: through full-court defensive pressure or a solid effort on the defensive glass. If Syracuse can convert in transition, the Pittsburgh defense may be taken out of its comfort zone, thereby relegating its defensive statistical history obsolete.
But everyone knows (at least those that are not batshit insane) that this will not happen.

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