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Syracuse women’s basketball: What to Watch for versus Pittsburgh

The Orange look to get back into the win column against the ACC.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Stony Brook at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team (10-4, 1-2) hopes to avoid losing three straight games for the first time this season.

The Orange will have a chance to redeem itself Thursday night in its matchup against the Pittsburgh Panthers (7-7, 0-3). Syracuse is coming off back-to-back single-digit losses to Louisville and NC State, while Pittsburgh looks to bounce back after consecutive defeats to Wake Forest and Miami. Last season, the Panthers finished 11-19 overall and just 2-16 against the ACC.

Tip-off is set for 6 pm EST at the JMA Wireless Dome, with the game available for streaming on ESPN’s ACC Network.

Here’s what to watch for in the contest between Syracuse and Pittsburgh:

Question #1: Will the Dyaisha Fair and Teisha Hyman backcourt bounce back?

It’s the biggest story for the women’s basketball team so far. Fair enters the Thursday night contest shooting 9/41 from the field and 3/15 from three combined against Louisville and NC State. Meanwhile, after a season-high 27 points on 55% shooting versus the Cardinals, Hyman submitted her first scoreless game since her rookie season back in 2019.

Before ACC play really ramps up as the schedule gets progressively more difficult, the Fair-Hyman backcourt needs to improve their efficiency while cutting down on costly mistakes and poor shot selection. As it is, Syracuse is already a team lacking offensive punch and can’t afford its two-best scorers to play as they have recently.

Question #2: Can the Orange take care of the ball?

Despite Syracuse’s low ranking in assists per game and average rate of turnovers per game, Pittsburgh’s opponents are turning the ball over at the fifth-lowest rate in the ACC. On the other side, Syracuse ranks third in the conference in steals per game. If the Orange don’t cough up the ball 20 times as it did against NC State, this should be a comfortable victory for Syracuse.

Question #3: How much does coach Felisha Legette-Jack use her bench?

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that FLJ can carve out larger roles for some members on the Orange bench. Kyra Wood played hard-nosed defense for over 30 minutes against NC State, while players like Saniaa Wilson, Asia Strong, and Cheyenne McEvans have had flashes but in a limited sample size.

A common theme between the ACC’s best teams is how much depth those programs have. Teams like Louisville and NC State can go eight to nine players in their rotations. We haven’t seen Syracuse consistently get to that level of depth, and there’s still plenty of season left to go. After all, it is a marathon and not a sprint.

The Orange have a lot of upside the rest of the way, but it has to rely on more than just a few out-of-character performances from one or two players. How FLJ and the team as a whole fight back on Thursday night will be the biggest thing to watch for in a somewhat make-it-or-break-it inflection point for this season.

Syracuse versus Pittsburgh preview by the numbers

All-time: Syracuse is 49-16 all-time versus Pittsburgh dating back to 1980, with the Orange winning the last 22 matchups (!!!) versus the Panthers.

Last matchup: Last season, Syracuse’s Teisha Hyman hit a go-ahead jump shot to give the Orange a 67-65 road victory on February 13th, 2022.

Win/loss implications: A win returns the Orange back to .500 against the ACC and extends the team’s home record to 10-1 at home. A defeat against the worst team in the conference would mean Syracuse losing three straight games for the first time this season.

Prediction: I’m confident Syracuse can return to form back at home against an opponent it has consistently defeated over the years. The Orange need to feel the desperation and secure a win before the train falls off the tracks. It’ll be close early on, but I have Syracuse winning 65-52. Pittsburgh doesn’t have the offensive firepower to secure a victory on the road.

Syracuse vs. Pittsburgh Team Stats

Statistical Categories Syracuse Pittsburgh
Statistical Categories Syracuse Pittsburgh
PPG 75.8 67
Opponent PPG 63.8 65
Margin of Victory plus-12.0 plus-2.0
FG% 42% 42%
Defensive FG% 38% 38%
3FG% 28% 32%
Defensive 3FG% 25% 32%
FT% 71% 68%
RPG 44.4 38.4
APG 13 13.9
T/O 15.3 16.3
A/T ratio 0.9 0.9
Points off turnovers 18.8 15.5
SPG 10.6 8.8
BPG 4 4