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Syracuse men’s basketball vs. Pittsburgh preview: Five things to watch

The Orange go for their seventh straight win against the Panthers

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 25 Pitt at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

What a flurry of emotions to recover from after that Georgia Tech game. From a double-digit deficit to a solid victory in the blink of an eye. Another sensational performance from Marek Dolezaj and the most under-the-radar 20 point, 7 rebound, 7 assist game you’ll ever see from Elijah Hughes stole victory from the jaws of defeat.

After 20 of the most exhilarating minutes in recent Syracuse basketball history, we turn our sights to Pittsburgh. The Syracuse Orange face off against the Pittsburgh Panthers on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh with a chance to get above .500 in conference play.

Let’s take a look at the five keys to the game and what to watch for.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 25 Pitt at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Missing bunnies

An alarming trend has developed recently for the Orange, and it reared it’s ugly head in the first half against Georgia Tech: missed layups. In the first 20 minutes alone, Syracuse missed seven layups. In the second half they missed just one. It was the difference in the game, and it’s something that the Orange hopefully addressed this week.

In most cases, the missed layups weren’t due to pressure or being heavily contested. They were simply a player losing focus. That’s a correctable mistake with more reps in these situations. Every game is making this team better, and that’s a scary thought for one of the better offenses in the country.

Shifting Philosophy

The Syracuse basketball offense has gone through a major transition over the past several weeks. We’ve morphed from a one-dimensional three-point shooting team into... something else. I’m not entirely sure what the something else is yet.

It [the offense] seems to want to isolate a lot. But it also wants to play in transition. It sometimes still jacks a lot of threes, too.

It’s an odd sort of hybrid, conglomerate offense.

It works by the sum of its parts, and at times, it’s a thing of beauty. When Elijah Hughes, Buddy Boeheim, and Joe Girard are humming, it’s truly fun to watch. However, it can also falter when things don’t go well for a possession or two.

The team then stagnates and starts chucking, and bad things happen. Against Pitt, we need the conglomerate. We need that multifaceted attack at its best.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 25 Pitt at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Contain the guards

Pittsburgh is a guard dominant team. Their top five scorers (Justin Champagnie, Trey McGowens, Xavier Johnson, Au’Diese Toney, Ryan Murphy) are all guards, and they don’t play anyone taller than 6-foot-10.

Their guards are going to be looking to penetrate all game long, and Girard and Boeheim are going to have their hands full trying to keep them on the perimeter. None of them are great shooters, so I imagine we’ll sag off the three-point line and dare them to shoot. Our guards will need to stay disciplined and not give up the interior passes or dribble drives.

Win the rebounding battle

As mentioned, Pitt is not a big team. The Orange should be able to win the rebounding battle, assuming the Panthers don’t go thug mode like in years past. Bourama Sidibe and Quincy Guerrier have both emerged as plus rebounders, so I expect them to hold their own against the somewhat smaller Pitt Panthers.

The game will be won or lost in the trenches, and I fully expect the Orange to prove they are the better overall team in this respect. Look for Guerrier’s fourth double double of the season.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 25 Pitt at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Keeping the streak alive

There’s only a few games left in the season and we’re cutting it a bit close here. With only 15 wins thus far, an overall winning season for Syracuse basketball isn’t yet guaranteed. We still need two more wins in our next four (five including ACC tournament, six should we make a postseason tournament).

It’s a pretty amazing streak if you think about it. Not once in his entire career did Jim Boeheim have a losing record. A win against Pitt would put him just one win away from a guaranteed winning season, regardless of postseason results.

Let’s make that win a reality on Wednesday night.