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Syracuse vs. Pittsburgh preview: Five things to watch

Can the Orange avoid another letdown loss in the Carrier Dome?

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The excitement of Monday’s win is still running through the fan base, but the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team (12-5, 3-1) is flipping to the next page on this season as they prepare for the Pittsburgh Panthers (12-5, 2-2) to come into the Carrier Dome on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET.

Both teams are coming off of wins against ranked teams in the ACC (Pitt just beat the No. 11-ranked Florida State Seminoles), so this has the potential to be a letdown game for either team. Coach Jim Boeheim has said numerous times that there will be zero easy wins in conference play this year, and that includes this game where Syracuse will need to play aggressive from the start if they want to avoid another loss in the Carrier Dome.

Is Frank Howard back?

Yeah, I know I claimed that Frank Howard is back after his breakout game against the Duke Blue Devils on Monday, but the Orange need to see those kinds of outings consistently if the senior point guard is truly back.

Howard looked aggressive and had his quick first step back against the Blue Devils, as he was able to get inside the lane off the dribble. The best thing that Howard showed on Monday was his burst in his jump shot, as he was able to rise over his defender and sink multiple jumpers. Howard is the quarterback to this offense, and he’ll need to play that way the rest of the season if they’re going to reach their full potential.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Was Monday’s performance just a one-time thing for Paschal Chukwu?

Paschal Chukwu has really struggled this season, but the 7’2” center had his best game of the year in Cameron Indoor Stadium, where he finished with 10 points, 18 rebounds, and three blocks. The Orange needed a big man inside to step up and clean up the glass with all of Duke’s high flyers, and Chukwu came through in a massive way.

Syracuse needs Chukwu to play like the big man his size would indicate if they want to limit teams to one shot per possession. The Panthers come into the Dome as the fifth-best rebounding team in the ACC with 41.6 boards per game, so the Orange are going to need Chukwu to dominate the glass once again if they want to come away with the win.

Perimeter shooting

The three-point shot will be a question for the Orange all season long, but Syracuse used the long ball to their, dare I say, advantage against Duke, as they shot 11-of-25 from deep. Five different players for the Orange hit a three on Monday, and they’ll be looking for that same type of production from their perimeter players on Saturday. Look for the Orange to try to get their sharpshooter Elijah Hughes going from deep early, as they look to create a quick lead against the Panthers.

Can Syracuse guard the perimeter?

Not only will the long ball be important for the Orange on the offensive end, but they’ll also be focused on containing Pittsburgh’s shooters on the defensive side of the ball. The Panthers are led by Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens who combine for 31.5 points per game, and they use the long ball to their advantage. Both players can stroke it from deep which could stem trouble for the Orange, but Syracuse should be okay if the top of zone is locked in from the tip.

It’s Tyus Battle’s time

Tyus Battle exploded for 32 points against the Blue Devils, as he carried Syracuse to a road win over the number one team in the country. With 14 games remaining in the regular season for the Orange, the time is now for Battle to make games like his last one a common regularity. SU will go as far as Battle carries them this year, so look for Syracuse’s leading scorer to have the ball early and often Saturday afternoon.

The one caveat here is similar to what was included above on Howard, however. Battle’s most effective when driving the lane, which creates more space for his at-times lethal jumper. If Syracuse is going to run at anything resembling the tempo we saw against Duke, Battle will be integral in that.