The Syracuse Orange and Pittsburgh Panthers used to have a spectacular rivalry in men’s hoops. I say “used to” because any semblance of the intensity these matchups brought was long gone last season. A meager 15,214 tickets were sold for first game inside the Dome, which featured scores of empty bleachers. The rematch in Pittsburgh looked even worse:
This is so sad. Hardly anybody here about 10 minutes before tipoff. pic.twitter.com/Hdd2sr3MKn— Mike Waters (@MikeWatersSYR) January 26, 2022
So why do I think there’s a chance for the rivalry to return to glory this upcoming season? It has to do with the top incoming talent each program recruited - and their history with the other.
Just yesterday, Dior Johnson announced his commitment to Pitt after backing out from Oregon’s offer. He’s the #37 prospect of 2022 according to 247 Sports, and #35 from ESPN’s Top 100. I’m sure many of you remember that he originally committed to Syracuse two years ago. (And he never took this post down. Whoops.)
Assuming Johnson does uphold his decision this time, he could be half of an interesting head-to-head matchup. The top SU recruit of this recruiting cycle, Judah Mintz, traveled the opposite road of Dior, originally choosing Pitt but later deciding to join the Orange. Mintz is 247’s #47 prospect, but he’s higher than Johnson on ESPN’s list at #33.
So let’s set the table here:
- Both schools are coming off disappointing years.
- Both schools landed an unexpected top recruit that looks to bring their program back to relevance.
- Both recruits are guards that can immediately step up and lead on offense.
- Both recruits have history with the other school and there’s likely to be some animosity towards them for flipping to a conference foe.
Adding to that, Dior is already replying “see you in the Dome” to any ‘Cuse supporters in the Twitter comments so safe to say he won’t get a warm welcome in CNY.
Obviously just one star player on both sides isn’t guaranteed to pack the stands, but if the revamped squads can show some serious improvement heading into conference play, their two matchups could actually get some hype again. Syracuse has a Top-20 incoming class (rated #14 by S.I.) while Pitt Head Coach Jeff Capel is rapidly running out of time to turn things around. Syracuse fans aren’t exactly united behind Jim Boeheim either so there’s added pressure on both guys to perform.
What do you all think? Can these contests mean something again in 2023 or is this just some misguided optimism?