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Previewing Syracuse at Pitt with Cardiac Hill

We get the Panthers perspective on the rematch

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange basketball team takes to the road to face the Pittsburgh Panthers for the second time this season. We asked Mike Wilson from SBNation’s Pitt Blog Cardiac Hill to give us some insight in advance of the game.

In the first meeting, Buddy Boeheim went off in the first half and pushed Syracuse to a big lead that they were able to hold at the end. How can the Panthers avoid getting behind early in this one?

To avoid falling behind early, Pitt will need to commit to defending both Elijah Hughes and Buddy Boeheim, with an emphasis on limiting open three-point shots. In addition, Pitt will need early contributions from its offensive stars. The team typically does well when Xavier Johnson steps up early, and Justin Champagnie was vital to the success Pitt had against Syracuse last time around. However, last time, the two combined for six points in the first half and were held scoreless for the first 16 minutes. They’ll need to get going much earlier this time, and they can’t afford to let up once they get started. Specifically, Pitt will be best served by moving the ball well and looking for inside chances for Champagnie rather than settling for three-point attempts since those aren’t falling for Pitt with any consistency.

Pitt comes into this game losing their last four games. What’s been the reason for the recent struggles?

The Panthers have been struggling with consistency and fatigue, and that’s due in large part to the team’s limited depth. The team has seven players in its regular rotation, and two of them (Ryan Murphy and Eric Hamilton) have dealt with injuries recently. That has forced Jeff Capel to lean on freshmen Abdoul Karim Coulibaly and Gerald Drumgoole, which has seen mixed results. On top of that, Trey McGowens, who was once Pitt’s top scorer, has shot 7-for-33 from the field during the four-game skid and has scored in single digits in each of those games. So that has hurt the Panthers as well.

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Virginia Tech Michael Thomas Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Champagnie went for 14 and 9 in the first meeting and he leads the Panthers in both scoring and rebounding. How surprised are fans by his performance in his freshman season?

Pitt fans have been pleased with Justin Champagnie but not all that surprised. He was a four-star recruit ranked just outside the national top 100 when Pitt landed him, and many considered him the centerpiece of the 2019 class. So there were big expectations for him early on. Oddly, he was downgraded to a three-star rating by 247Sports just before officially signing with Pitt last spring. However, that did little to diminish fan perception of him as an incoming star, and thus far, he has lived up to the hype. The only real surprise is how quickly he has met expectations.

Pitt’s shooting just over 40% from the field on the season. How do you think they’ll look to attack a Syracuse zone which has allowed ACC opponents to shoot over 50% against them?

Last time around, the Panthers tried and failed to take advantage of the open three-point shots they were given. Ryan Murphy got off seven three-point attempts but converted on just two. On top of that, Murphy has scored two points in his last 61 minutes on the court, so it seems unlikely Pitt will lean on him. It also would not be wise for Pitt to emphasize three-point shooting in general, since Murphy is the team’s only semi-consistent shooter. Instead, Pitt should look to Justin Champagnie to attack the rim again, and if he gets help from Terrell Brown like last time, all the better. In addition, Xavier Johnson should figure prominently into Pitt’s game plan as the primary playmaker, as the team is 11-3 this season when Johnson has six or more assists.

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Florida State Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

What’s your prediction for the game?

Syracuse wins, but Pitt narrows the gap slightly from last time. Final score: 63-58.

Thanks again to Mike for this information on the Panthers. Be sure to check out Cardiac Hill for more on Pitt Athletics.