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Syracuse vs. Pittsburgh preview: Five things to watch

It might seem like a so-called “winnable” game, but it’s never that easy for Syracuse when it comes to the ACC Tournament.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange (19-12, 10-8) are looking for the program’s second-ever ACC Tournament victory tonight at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte. As Kevin pointed out, finding success in this particular tourney hasn’t been easy for the Orange in the last five seasons.

However, Jim Boeheim’s squad is favored to beat the Pittsburgh Panthers (14-18, 3-15) for the third time this season, and potentially wrap up an invitation in the NCAA Tournament. The stakes are high despite the fact that taking down Pitt isn’t exactly sexy and definitely won’t help the ole resume.

Regardless, here are some keys to this all-important game for SU:

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Where, oh where has Tyus Battle gone?

The junior has had two consecutive off games, which has caused major issues for Syracuse’s overall offensive approach. Against Virginia and Clemson combined, Battle made just 8 of his last 30 attempts from the field, 2 of 8 from three-point range.

On top of the shooting woes, he has also been clearly frustrated. During a time out in the second half in the loss to the Tigers last weekend, Battle appeared to try and leave a team huddle before it was completely done. Boeheim went after him in order to talk to his star player about something. What? We don’t know. But it was an eyebrow-raising few seconds to say the least. Was that a one-game, one-off situation, or is the pressure of trying to lead a team to the NCAA tourney while also courting the attention of NBA general managers and scouts weighing him down?

Either way, losing is always tough to handle, especially when it comes in March. This week, and possibly the ensuing weeks, is a chance for Battle and Syracuse as whole to rewrite the biography of this season. You know, like how last year went. That can only happen if Battle is buying in and playing well.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Boston College vs Pittsburgh Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse needs to beat an opponent for the third time in one season

It’s a debate as old as time: is it tough to beat a team three times in the same season? John wrote on Tuesday that Syracuse hasn’t really had success in this endeavor (recently, anyway) Since the turn of the century, SU has only defeated an opponent three times in the same season two times (Georgetown in 02-03 and Connecticut in 11-12). Though when it comes to Pittsburgh, the Orange has accomplished the the full trifecta sweep twice (‘90, ‘93).

Capel’s crew is certainly inexperienced and has had its fare share of struggles this season, but it also has a fresh start after beating Boston College Tuesday night. Plus, the Panthers have played against the 2-3 zone on two occasions and will absolutely not be surprised or intimated by it. That doesn’t mean they won’t be sucked into taking ill-advised shots, but it might make it less likely. Can Syracuse force the issue against what should be a well-prepared opponent?

Seriously, though, is Syracuse jinxed when it comes to the ACC Tournament?

The Orange has exactly one win in the ACC’s tourney since joining up with the group. That victory came last season against less-than-stellar Wake Forest. Otherwise, Syracuse has dropped some fairly winnable games in this tournament, including defeats to Miami and (duh) Pittsburgh.

And ain’t no one forgetting about the first-ever ACC tourney game for the Orange.

The really interesting part of the struggles for Boeheim and company is that the ACC moved its tourney to Washington, D.C. and Brooklyn over the last three years. And even with that closer-to-home setting, SU still couldn’t find any real success.

With the festivities moved back to the south (Charlotte, NC), how will Syracuse respond? A good question, especially so against an opponent in Pittsburgh that already has played a game on that court.

Pitt has faced Syracuse twice already this season, but can it actually do damage against the zone?

The Panthers picked up a pretty impressive win against Boston College on Tuesday night in Charlotte, and, as stated above, they’re about to play a team they’ve already seen twice in just the last three months. However, Pitt did struggle against Syracuse, making just 17 of 57 from three in the two previous match-ups. On top of that, for the season the Panthers hit just 32.7 percent of their threes. Even last night, they were 5 of 14 against the Eagles.

The Orange couldn’t stop Virginia a couple of games back, but in the loss at Clemson, SU held the Tigers to 20.8 percent from deep. Will the defense continue to collapse in the paint and get out on shooters like it has for the most part so far this year? If so, the youthful Panthers will be in trouble. If not, though, Pitt might be able to use its athleticism to get to the rim and create good shot attempts.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Rebound that basketball

Did you know that Syracuse defeated Pittsburgh two times this season already? Oh, okay, you did. But did you realize that the Panthers out-rebounded the Orange in each match-up? In the previous two outings, the board margin didn’t factor into the score margin much. But as a Syracuse fan, you know that the Orange typically has a better chance for victory if its at least active when it comes to rebounds.

Paschal Chukwu grabbed 11 boards against Pittsburgh in the Dome in January and secured eight in the road win verses the Panthers in February. The seven-foot-two big man was active in the two contests, asserting himself early in both tilts. When Chukwu seemingly makes a contribution early on, he stays engaged for the majority of games. That could be an important factor tonight.

Obviously, rebounds alone won’t tell the whole story, as was the case in the earlier meetings. But should Syracuse struggle to score—Hello, Clemson—then it very well could be a major reason why the Orange moves on to face Duke tomorrow, or is forced to sweat out yet another Selection Sunday.