Preview & Prediction: By Fairway Jay
A Big East battle highlights ESPN’s Big Monday as #8 Syracuse (17-2, 5-1) visits recent #1 Pittsburgh (16-1, 4-1). The Panthers suffered their first loss of the season Saturday in a 69-63 loss at Louisville, but the Panthers remain perfect at home this season (11-0). Syracuse throttled Notre Dame 93-74 and should move up the rankings as they continue their strong play.
The visiting Orange have some muscle inside with 6-9, 275lb Arinze Onuaku, who chipped in 19 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocked shots while battling Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody Saturday. Onuaku averages in doubles figures and is hitting over 63% of his shots in league play. He’ll have his hands full again by battling Pitt’s DeJuan Blair, the Big East’s no. 2 rebounder behind Harangody. Junior 6-4 forward Paul Harris actually leads Syracuse in rebounding and plays with great energy and determination. Sophomore point guard Jonny Flynn leads the team in scoring with 16 ppg and assists with nearly 6 per game and shares the backcourt and ball with Eric Devendorf, the team's inspirational leader who is back healthy and providing solid production for the Orange. Jim Boeheim teams are always entertaining but this team is especially worth watching, as Flynn and Onuaku are rising stars and Devendorf and Harris play with the kind of spirit and energy that makes college basketball a great game to watch.
A key match-up worth watching is Flynn against senior leader Levance Fields, the Pitt point guard that leads the Big East with over eight assists per game in conference play and is an excellent and determined defender that will pressure Flynn throughout. Another key cog for Pitt is senior forward Sam Young, who leads the Panthers in scoring at over 18 ppg but has suffered through a recent 15/49 shooting slump the past three games. Young is a career 50% FG shooter, but Pitt’s production in scoring defense, rebounding, assist/turnover ratio and under 40% FG defense make them a top team with their experience and defensive strength.
Most basketball fans and observers expect a bounce back from Pitt following their first loss of the season Saturday. But Syracuse is proving to be one of the country’s top teams, as they currently lead the Big East in shooting (52%) and are the league’s top 3-point shooting team as well. The Orange are stronger on the defensive end this season and are holding opponents to 41% shooting in league play. Syracuse can also battle on the boards and are no. 3 in the league in rebounding margin. Syracuse has gotten to the free throw line more than any other team in Big East play, but surprisingly have shot a poor 56% from the charity stripe. Both these teams are very efficient on the offensive end, and Syracuse prefers to play at a faster pace.
Interesting to watch the contrast in styles and quality match-ups both inside and along the perimeter as both teams face their toughest opponent to date. Pitt may prevail, but this should be a close contest with Syracuse plenty capable of the upset.
Winner: Pittsburgh Margin 2-5 points
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About Fairway Jay
Previews & Predictions
Jay Ginsbach, also known as "Fairway Jay’"joins the CHN team and staff this season from Sportsmemo.com. He’ll provide his insight and expertise covering the college basketball scene with periodic thoughts from a Las Vegas perspective.