I do not like the Oakland Zoo. I do not like to play this school. I do not like them here or there. I do not like them anywhere. Thanks, Dr. Seuss, but I really am getting chest pains just sitting here writing about the Pittsburgh Panthers.
I feel like that's par for the course, especially recently. Just look at last year's roller coaster: in the Big East Tournament, Syracuse's offense was hot and the chemistry clicked. But in the regular season meeting, there was no offense, no rebounding, and the Oakland Zoo taunted MCW relentlessly in bathrobes.
We've seen this team a time or two, but that doesn't make me any more comfortable with them. Let's see how we match up this time.
2012-2013 Record: 24-9 (12-6), Big East
Conference Ranking: 4th, Big East
Historical Notes: Syracuse leads the series 63-39, but Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon is 10-4 against the Orange. Like I said, the last regular season game was a perfect storm of badness. It was a noon game, Syracuse was down a few players, and someone ate Chipotle beforehand. Ok, that last part isn't true, but I would have believed it.
What They're Known For: Physical, defensive-minded basketball. Oh, and Jamie Dixon's hair. Seriously, Dixon has done good work since coming on. He's led Pitt to the NCAA Tournament in 9 out of 10 seasons, and made it to the Sweet 16 or farther three times.
Season Summary: After dropping three of its first four conference games, the Panthers only lost three games total the rest of the regular season. As you know, the Orange knocked them out of the Big East Tournament, thanks in part to the James Southerland 3-point shooting clinic. In the NCAA Tournament, Pitt was paired against Wichita State. In case you forgot, the Shockers made it to the Final Four, so yea. Pitt didn't make it out of the first weekend.
Talib Zanna (9.6 PPG/6.1 RPG). Once the conference slate began last year, Zanna became a bit inconsistent. As the senior leader, he needs to work out those kinks. The problem is that the 6-9 forward will now be Pitt's 6-9 center for a lot of minutes, and it's hard to work on your game when you're learning a new position.
Cameron Wright (4.3 PPG/1.4 RPG/1.0 APG). Wright shot 50% from the floor last season. He's only seen action behind Tray Woodall and Trey Zeigler, but the 6-4 guard isn't behind them anymore. As a junior, the Panthers need him to have a breakout year. If he can keep up the stellar shooting performances that he's had recently, that just might happen.
Lamar Patterson (10 PPG/4.3 RPG/1.2 SPG). The 6-5 swing man is an inconsistent scorer and streaky shooter who contributes elsewhere when the shots don't fall. That's great, but he's a senior now. If Pittsburgh is to be successful, it's time for Patterson to become more reliable.
Personnel Changes: Pittsburgh's 7-foot center, Steven Adams (7.2 PPG/6.3 RPG/2.0 BPG), went to the NBA. Graduation took guard Tray Woodall (11.5 PPG/2.6 RPG/5.1 APG) and forward/center Dante Taylor (5.0 PPG/3.9 RPG). Also departed are guard Trey Zeigler (4.4 PPG/2.0 RPG/1.2 APG) and forward J.J. Moore (8.0 PPG/3.0 RPG), both of whom transferred.
The Panthers add size with Rutgers transfer, Derrick Randall, who is eligible immediately, and JUCO product Joseph Uchebo. Chris Jones (6-6, guard) will play after redshirting his freshman year, and the incoming recruits are Michael Young (6-8, forward), Detrick Mostella (6-2, guard), Josh Newkirk (6-2, guard), and Jamel Artis (6-7, forward).
2013-2014 Potential: Eek, frontcourt. Not only has Pitt lost a lot, but some players they gained won't help immediately. Randall and Uchebo are both recovering from injuries, so the Panthers will need Durand Johnson (6-6, sophomore), and the two freshmen to play key minutes next to Zanna. A sophomore who shot under 29% in regular season conference games, James Robinson, will continue to start at the point, backed up by even more youth (Newkirk).
On the bright side, Detrick Mostella is the most athletic shooting guard Pitt has had in a while. He can't carry the team himself, though, so the Panthers will finish the season in the middle of the conference.
Orange Match-Up: We've come to expect a degree of
blood contact during 'Cuse-Pitt contests. With a new-ish officiating crew, changes to the the block/charge calls, and eliminating hand checks, it will be interesting to see if this stops.
One thing that won't stop is Dixon's focus on rebounding. It kills Syracuse every time. I know this isn't new, but the Orange needs to crash the glass on both ends of the court. There's no excuse for not doing it, now that Pittsburgh has one of its smallest and least experienced frontcourts of the last few years. Syracuse can exploit that even more by going inside on offense. Don't be surprised if Boeheim defers to a perimeter/mid-range game, though. If DaJuan Coleman keeps dropping his shoulders, especially against smaller opponents like Zanna, he'll rack up early fouls.
Compare talent at every position, and the Orange looks good; but don't sleep on Pitt. The minute you do, the Panthers pounce, and games get out of hand quicker than Sean lands in Twitter jail. You have been warned.