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Syracuse vs. Pittsburgh preview: Five things to watch

The Orange look to bounce back from last week’s unfortunate late defeat. So how will they do so?

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a tough stretch of games for the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team (7-3, 1-2) since returning from their second pause since the start of November. However, they can at least make things a little better by beating the Pittsburgh Panthers (6-2, 2-1) and avenging last week’s brutal loss. As you recall, SU was up 18 at one point, then faltered down the stretch against a shorthanded Panthers squad. Not ideal, especially when both teams are on the bubble...

Before the game tips off for a nooner on ACC Network Extra this Saturday, we wanted to preview some of the most important things to watch out for.

Ajayi: Syracuse bounce-back

The team will be hungry for a win after losing. The Orange have won each game following a lost all season and they look to continue that trend. Rebounding was a huge problem last game, now Syracuse has to find a way to box out better and chase down those loose balls. Last but not least, they have to also worry about hitting their shots from downtown, they’re getting open looks, they just aren’t connecting.

Kevin: What exactly is Syracuse trying to do this season?

I know the pauses have impacted what Jim Boeheim can do but early in the season Woody Newton was a big piece in the rotation and now who knows. Jon Bol Ajak played at Rutgers but now he’s “not big enough” to get minutes against Georgetown and UNC. Is Kadary Richmond an offensive liability or a key piece to improving the 2-3 zone? Each game it seems we see a new wrinkle and the lack of identity isn’t helping this group find any rhythm so the Orange need to figure it out quickly before they play themselves off the bubble discussion.

Christan: Tyler Lydon Syndrome

Now you may ask yourself, “What is Tyler Lydon Syndrome?” Well, Lydon had a tendency to pass up on shots and open looks, which frustrated me a lot throughout his tenure at Syracuse. After what we saw towards the end of the UNC game with Marek Dolezaj, I feel that it is prevalent to bring that up again. The Syracuse frontcourt is the most efficient part of Syracuse’s offense. Whenever Dolezaj and Guerrier get an offensive touch, they need to attack the basket. Those two are the only consistent and reliable source of offense. Guerrier took those chances against the Tar Heels, while Dolezaj didn’t.

Syracuse’s guards suffer from the opposite of Tyler Lydon Syndrome (now taking applications for names). In particular, Alan Griffin and Joe Girard have a bad tendency to not pass up on any shot, even if the opportunity isn’t necessarily there. Giving the Orange frontcourt high-percentage looks is a great way for the offense to get rolling again. Now the horse just has to drink the water.

Szuba: Syracuse’s shooting

We know the rebounding story full well, so let’s turn our attention to another important aspect of this Syracuse-Pittsburgh game: Three point shooting. Syracuse came out hot in the first matchup, yet leveled off as the game went on, content to take outside shots. Pittsburgh ranks No. 15 in the country in three point percentage defense (KenPom). The Orange shot 12-38 from beyond the arc in the first meeting. Can they shoot fewer threes, but best that percentage (31.6%) against the Panthers on the road?

John: Prevent second chance points (to the extent possible)

Over the course of the last two ACC games — Pitt and North Carolina — Syracuse has allowed a combined 45 second-chance points off of 44 (!!!) offensive rebounds. That number’s not at all sustainable for this Syracuse team, which can go cold from three and seems questionably averse to driving the ball inside of late. Obviously there’s the additional concern that increasingly fighting for boards against better rebounding teams (like Pitt) could lead to more fouls against big men Guerrier and Dolezaj. But given the number of points we’re allowing on offensive putbacks, it’s a risk worth taking.