The Syracuse Orange host the “rival” Pittsburgh Panthers on Saturday at noon ET. Since we haven’t seen Pitt since March (grrrr), we thought we’d talk to fellow SB Nation blog Cardiac Hill about the matchup. See responses from Jim Hammett below:
How has Pitt handled the transition from Jamie to Kevin Stallings?
I think the transition has gone pretty well on the court to this point. Pitt is sitting on a 12-3 record, and I think that's about all anyone was expecting through 15 games. This current Pitt team has some skill, but they are flawed as well. They were picked 12th in the ACC, so I think Stallings is meeting expectations for the most part. The style of play is a bit different from Dixon, but given the personnel, it's working out fine actually. Dixon often preached defense, while Stallings seems to let them shoot more freely. It's not always pretty, but it's worked for the most part.
I think among the fan base is where it's going to take some time. Dixon started out at Pitt as an assistant in 1999, and has been the head coach of the team for the past 13 seasons. Under Dixon's guidance, Pitt made 11 NCAA Tournaments and were often among the top teams in the Big East and in the country for that matter. Things soured in the past five years, and the topic of Jamie Dixon became a hot-button issue among the fan base. Long story short, it's weird not having him on the sidelines. Everyone respected what he did here, but it was probably best for everyone that he moved on to TCU. The Stallings' hire wasn't a popular one, but people have calmed down enough to give him a chance.
Michael Young and Jamel Artis are both averaging over 20 points per game. How can they be stopped?
If I knew, I might be employed by an ACC coaching staff. Both players are off to terrific starts to the season. Young and Artis are currently 1-2 in the ACC in scoring. I would guess it's pretty rare for two teammates to be atop the league leaders in scoring like that. Both players score a lot, because they get plenty of opportunities. Pitt is not very deep, so Artis and Young know they have to score for Pitt to have a chance.
Jamel Artis is technically the team's point guard, and he has the ball in his hands a lot. He's not a true point guard by any stretch, so he's still often looking for his own shot. Artis has always been a good scoring threat, but his shooting percentages are up considerably from last season. He's shooting 51% from the field and 45% from three, up from 47% and 36% last year. He's made 11 three pointers the last 2 games, so a good way to stop him is to take away the outside shot and perhaps extending the zone, because that's where he's looking to score.
Young can score from anywhere on the court. He's made more three pointers this season than in his first three seasons of his career. His mid-range game is strong, and he has a nice set of post moves. He's the leading scorer in the league for a reason. Young is definitely going to score points in this game, the key is not letting anyone else beat you. Young tends to be easily frustrated, being physical with him is a good way to slow him down.
Historically, Pitt has owned the Syracuse zone. Do you think Stallings will have a different approach or will we see much of the same as past seasons?
I expect Pitt to have a similar approach as they had under Dixon. I think given the personnel they have, there's no reason to change things. The senior group of Young, Artis, Sheldon Jeter, and Chris Jones has had a lot of success against Syracuse, and they have a good feel for what it takes to beat the Orange.
Jamel Artis as a point guard was really born because of the Syracuse zone. Dixon would often allow the offense to run through Artis at the top of the key, and that's where the idea of letting him play point guard this season came from in all honesty. He should feel very comfortable on Saturday.
Young, Artis and Sheldon Jeter have all had monster games against the Orange, especially in the short corner. Who do you expect to have the big night?
I wouldn't sleep on sophomore shooting guard Cameron Johnson. If you recall back to March, Johnson had 24 points in Pitt's win over Syracuse in the ACC Tournament. Johnson went from a role player last season to Pitt's third option this year. Johnson is 6'8" and does not have problems getting his shot off from anywhere. He made four three pointers against Virginia on Wednesday, and when he's hot, Pitt is much harder to defend.
I would still count on Artis and Young to have solid games, as I mentioned above, because of the opportunities they have. They take a lot of shots, and Pitt is not very deep. They have no choice but to put up numbers every game.
Do you anticipate Jonathan Milligan to earn more minutes in this contest as Syracuse will do that zone thing?
It is certainly possible that Milligan will gain some minutes. I've alluded to the fact that Pitt is not very deep. The one guard off the bench all season long has been true freshman Justice Kithcart. He is mainly in there to spell the starters and handle the ball. Kithcart is not looking to score really. He's a promising player down the line, but he's not a threat to score currently.
Jonathan Milligan on the other hand, is not afraid to take a shot if it's there. I could see him grabbing a few minutes. He's attempted 32 shots this season, with 26 of them coming from behind the arc. If Pitt is looking for a scoring spark, Milligan could be that bench option in this game. His playing time is sporadic though, he could play 10 minutes or not get into the game at all.
Pitt wins if...
There's no secret that Pitt has had Syracuse's number in the past 10-12 years. I'm sure your fans know that as much as anyone. I think the key here is to stick to that same formula, and while the coach has changed, the players have not. Jamel Artis and Mike Young have had a lot of success against the Orange in their careers.
That usual recipe of beating Syracuse has been controlling the glass and hitting outside shots, something that propelled Pitt to victory over Virginia on Wednesday. Pitt has guys that can make shots, and they rebound well as a team. If they can do those two things, I think they get the win.
Syracuse wins if...
I know Syracuse has struggled this season, but I also know Jim Boeheim is a Hall of Fame coach. I know Syracuse has talented players. I also know the Carrier Dome will be rocking. So those three things concern me. Pitt is not a very good defensive team, and the Orange have some guys that can knock down shots. Andrew White can really score, and Tyler Lydon is a guy I would take on my team any day of the week.
Ultimate prediction time. Who do you see winning this matchup?
I guess I'm being a homer, but I see Pitt coming out on top. I think the two teams mirror each other in a lot of ways, as in they are both long and athletic teams. Neither coach goes very deep into their bench, either. Even though Jamie Dixon is gone, there won't be many surprises in this game with Pitt having four senior starters. At the end of the day, I think Artis and Young will be the two best players on the floor and that gets Pitt a narrow victory by a score of 67-62.