Five Key Questions as Pittsburgh Heads to the Carrier Dome with Something to ProvePosted by Matt Patton & Lathan Wells on January 18th, 2014
In anticipation of the new marquee ACC match-up this afternoon at 4:00 PM EST, microsite columnists Matt Patton and Lathan Wells ask each other the tough questions. Somehow, we only mention CJ Fair once.
Lathan: Tyler Ennis has proven to be a freshman beyond his years at the point, with a demeanor that belies his class. Can anyone disrupt him defensively and thus help stymie what Syracuse wants to do on offense?
Matt: Calling Ennis a surprise is disingenuous because everyone expected him to be really good. People just didn’t him to be this good this quickly. He’s made the offense more efficient by replacing Michael Carter-Williams, the current NBA Rookie of the Year front-runner. But Pittsburgh will likely try to make the freshman uncomfortable by sealing off the lane with face-guarding on the perimeter.
Pittsburgh has some of the best ball movement in the country (seventh nationally in assists per field goal made). How will Syracuse’s zone combat it?
Lathan: In short, the zone makes ball movement the key to staying in the game. Syracuse’s length across its lineup forces teams to keep throwing the ball around the perimeter and causing teams to hurry late in the shot clock to get a good shot. Establishing a solid high-low option is probably the key to having some sort of success on offense.
Pittsburgh is one of the better shooting teams in the nation at almost 49 percent, but obviously this is a different defensive monster than they’ve seen. Who can provide the reliable long-range shooting to possibly help puncture the Syracuse zone?
Matt: It’s going to start and end with Lamar Patterson. With Durand Johnson now out for the season, Patterson is the only dangerous threat from beyond the arc for the Panthers. James Robinson can also get hot, but Cameron Wright has been abysmal from three. In addition to continuing to run their offense through Patterson, look for the Panthers to live on the offensive glass, which we’ll talk about in a second.
Where is Syracuse’s best match-up, and how do you expect the Orange to exploit it?
Lathan: While Jamie Dixon’s frontcourt has played very well in the ACC, it’s not exactly overwhelming in terms of size. Only one player stands taller than 6’9”, while Syracuse boasts several players of that height or taller. The depth and size in the frontcourt should help Syracuse own the boards against the undersized Panthers.
Pittsburgh has historically done very well in the Carrier Dome (they’ve won five of the last six meetings there under Dixon). This is their first match-up as members of the ACC; what is the x-factor for the Panthers to extend it to six of seven?
Matt: Like you talked about before, hitting shots will be crucial to open up the floor. But to me offensive rebounds are the x-factor for Pittsburgh. It’s hard to rebound out of a zone, and they’re the 13th best offensive rebounding team in the country. The other elite team Syracuse has played is Villanova, which doesn’t have the offensive rebounding aptitude of Dixon’s team.
How will Syracuse limit the Panthers on the offensive boards?
Lathan: This builds off of my point above, but also corresponds to the first question. The zone allows Syracuse to recover quickly to missed shots, and even their guards are serviceable rebounders. Forcing teams deep into the shot clock means a lot of dysfunction and confusion, so if the zone keeps Pittsburgh probing on the perimeter and scrambling late for shot attempts, they are not in a good position for a smaller group of post players to jockey for position. Syracuse has a definite advantage here, at least on paper.
- Why Syracuse will win: Syracuse will win if their deeper, bigger frontcourt controls the backboards and Tyler Ennis continues to be one of the safest bets with a basketball in his hands in the country. Some long-range proficiency from sophomore marksman Trevor Cooney wouldn’t hurt, either.
- Why Pittsburgh will win: The Panthers have a chip on their shoulders, barely sneaking into the polls despite only one loss on the season. And they know how to win in the Carrier Dome. Lamar Patterson needs to continue his quest for ACC Player of the Year, while the Panther bigs feast on second chance opportunities.