Old Big East Programs Make Presences Felt Early in ACCPosted by Christopher Kehoe on December 2nd, 2013
Both Pittsburgh and Syracuse have began the 2013-14 season red-hot, with neither a loss between the two of them. Syracuse’s frontcourt depth and one-two punch of freshman point guard Tyler Ennis and forward C.J. Fair gifted the Orange a Maui Invitational title this week as Jim Boeheim’s team find itself ranked seventh in the national polls. With solid wins over Minnesota, Cal, and Baylor, Syracuse is heading into its first ACC/Big Ten Challenge (versus Indiana) with a heightened sense of confidence. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, hasn’t faced as many quality opponents as Syracuse, but has a decisive and resounding victory over Stanford on its resumé. The Panthers have also won over the advanced analytics crowd, coming in at #3 on KenPom’s early rankings. Pittsburgh lucks out with a cellar-dwelling in-state rival in Penn State in the Challenge, and only has to worry about its match-up versus old Big East foe Cincinnati for the remainder of the December schedule.
Credit Pittsburgh’s vaunted defensive prowess for its hot start. The Panthers have not missed a beat with the new defensive rules like many teams have to this date. While much of their success likely comes from an incredibly weak scheduling job by Jamie Dixon (currently 307th, according to KenPom), their undefeated record cannot be discredited on that basis alone. Pittsburgh has put together a roster built on experience and upperclassman leadership and is led by one of the more reliable point guards in all of the nation, James Robinson. While off to a scorching start and representing the ACC incredibly well, look for the Panthers to fall back to earth come January and February.
Grantland writer Shane Ryan says he will be ‘shocked’ if Syracuse doesn’t win this year’s ACC title. That is not such a preposterous statement when you consider the wealth of talent under Jim Boeheim at Syracuse and the incredibly deep frontcourt he has at his disposal. Led by Fair, Ennis, Trevor Cooney and Jerami Grant, Syracuse has a potent blend of versatility and skills. It still would be something of a coup for Syracuse to win the ACC title outright in its first season. Edging out blueblood powers Duke and North Carolina would lay to rest any notion of an adjustment year, but don’t think for a second Boeheim wouldn’t embrace such a result.
While the traditional ACC powers have stumbled out of the gates — see UNC’s losses to Belmont and UAB, as well as Duke’s losses to Arizona and Kansas on neutral courts — Pittsburgh and Syracuse have made their presence known. Surprises from the ACC include Florida State at 5-2 and Wake Forest and Clemson at 6-1, with all three schools predicted to finish in the lower half of the ACC. Florida State has been a particularly pleasant surprise, with an emphatic win over VCU and two very good losses — by two points to Michigan and by one point to Florida. In what is merely another in the countless examples of what makes college basketball great, the uncertainty and lack of predictability surrounding the ACC so far has made for must-watch hoops.