Wednesday's Atlantic Coast Conference showdown between the No. 1-ranked Syracuse Orange against host the No. 25-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers will be a perfect example that overall records and rankings do not mean jack when it comes to the landscape of men's college basketball.
Despite their impressive start to the season, the Orange (23-0, 10-0 ACC) will be expected to leave without a victory, even though, earlier in the season they defeated the Panthers (20-4, 8-3) and, since then, have played better than their former Big East Conference rival, which has struggled in its last five games going 3-2.
Of course, this isn't shocking as Syracuse has a history of struggling at Pitt -- SU is 2-6 at the Petersen Events Center, including five straight losses -- and many college basketball enthusiasts, for awhile now, have had this game circled as the Orange's first loss.
The odds are more stacked against SU Wednesday if senior center Baye Keita can not play, as he suffered a sprained knee in Sunday's victory over the Clemson Tigers. Keita's defensive fundamentals and energy off the bench are one of the many pieces that make SU good this year, but overall, it is the fact he is the Orange's only backup center to starter Rakeem Christmas that makes him extremely valuable -- especially defensively.
Not only that, but it is really hard to win on the road during league play. Take for example the last three days, which have featured the Kansas Jayhawks, Iowa St. Cyclones, Michigan St. Spartans, Creighton Bluejays, Cincinnati Bearcats, Michigan Wolverines, Texas Longhorns, Oklahoma St. Cowboys and Gonzaga Bulldogs all losing on the road. At the time of their losses, all of these teams were ranked in the top 25, some in the top 10.
All of this brings up an aspect Syracuse fans need to soak in: it is really hard to win a conference road game. In fact, some will argue it is harder than ever to win on the road because of the parity in college basketball, but whatever, it has been this way forever.
Now, for the most part, the Orange's ACC schedule has been pretty friendly in terms of playing tough opponents at home. That's not putting down Syracuse's schedule, it is just stating facts -- it is easier to play Duke, North Carolina, Miami and Clemson at home then it is on the road.
This all changes moving forward, as Wednesday's game tips-off a eight-game slate that features five away contents which closeout SU's regular-season schedule. For those that needs to see what Syracuse is really made of (here's looking at you Arizona Wildcat fans), this will be the start of the test they will review for a final grade.
Yet, like much of America's education system, will we really know how good SU is by the end of this exam (especially if Keita misses a decent amount of time)?
Odds are the Orange will lose more games than they will win on the road, but as mentioned before, that's the standard in college hoops. It is also why Syracuse is expected to lose Wednesday, even though, Pitt has been playing poorly and its best player, Lamar Patterson, who netted a game-high 18 points in the pair's previous meeting, is battling a thumb injury.
What will more than likely happen during this eight-game stretch is the Orange will be tested, they will lose a close game or two they probably would have won at home and there will be some overreaction to those disappointing outcomes.
What we all need to remember is: losses on the road in conference play are the norm and this is a Syracuse team that has found ways to put together positive surprises.
Lets hope that latter trend doesn't get bucked.