Breaking A Streak
Despite heaping amounts of success this season, Jim Boeheim still has two white whales to capture in Pittsburgh and Louisville. I probably don’t need to tell you that the Orange have dropped the last eight regular season matchups to the Panthers – sandwiched in there is a four-point win in the showstopping 2006 Big East Tournament run – but the streak is downright staggering. They haven’t beaten Pittsburgh in the regular season since 2004.
Perhaps the only thing more jaw-dropping than that is the fact that Jamie Dixon has never lost to Boeheim in the Carrier Dome; SU’s last win at home over the Panthers came in 2003, when Ben Howland was in his final year at the helm. In that time, the Orange have lost to the Panthers almost every way you can imagine – blowout (2004), close game (2005), failure to execute inbounds passes (2008), an insane performance from beyond the arc (Ashton Gibbs, 2010), being shut out for the first eight minutes (2011), you name it.
Luckily, this season seems different. For most of the season, the Panthers have been a shell of their old selves. They’ve dropped six in a row, their defense is about as effective as a Lindsay Lohan house arrest and the absence of a true point guard with Tray Woodall hobbled has to be wearing. If you’re looking for a cause for concern (in addition to the towering evidence of history), Pittsburgh may not be so dormant anymore. On Saturday, they went to Milwaukee and held Marquette to 45% shooting and forced 15 turnovers in a slowdown tempo. While the Panthers came up short, it had been about a month since the Panthers showed that kind of defensive intensity. Offense is still an issue, so if the Panthers want to continue their hypnotic control over the Orange, physical defensive play and a deliberate pace on offense will have to hold serve.
Meanwhile, despite a two-day turnaround, the Orange should be relatively fresh thanks to its deep bench and another huge lead that allowed Boeheim to rest his most valuable players over the last eight or so minutes of Saturday’s romp over Providence. No starter played more than 23 minutes, and no single player played more than 29 in the win over the Friars. You think the Per’fesser has been looking towards this chance to slay a demon?
In short, if tonight isn’t the night where Syracuse breaks its schnide, it will be tough to swallow, and I’ve been saying this since Pitt’s slide started turning the heads of those who didn’t see the warning signs develop in non-conference play.