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Syracuse men’s basketball: what to watch for vs Pittsburgh

Back from break against an old rival

Pittsburgh v Syracuse Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team (9-3, 0-1) now dives fully into ACC play from here on out. First up are the Pitt Panthers (9-3, 0-1) in a Noon tip tomorrow on the CW. Here’s what we’re watching for:

Kevin: Rebounding

While it’s easy to say that rebounding is a key in every Syracuse game, it’s especially true against Pitt. The Panthers enter this game averaging over 40 rebounds per game which is good for 17th in the country. They are collecting 13 offensive rebounds per game and that’s helped their offense to be able to bomb away from deep. Syracuse has to keep Federiko Federiko and the Diaz Graham twins from being able to dominate the glass in this one.

Finn: Don’t Settle on Threes

The Panthers boast a stringent defense that holds opponents to 39% from the field. When focusing on the three, this number drops to 25%, good enough for a top ten spot in the nation. If Syracuse wants to earn their first ACC win of the season, they will have to stick to the formula that has earned them their best results. Key wins against LSU and Oregon came when ‘Cuse used their guards' pace and creativity in transitional moments to attack the cup and find open looks for their teammates.

Dom: No early deficit

Last year’s home game versus Pitt saw Syracuse go down double-digits very early (the Panthers led by as much as 20 points). Most of that came from a mix of inconsistent offense and allowing way too many open looks for on the three-point line. Pitt’s outside shooting may very well be the deciding factor — while the Panthers are shooting middle of the pack from three in the ACC this year, they take the most by far. A slow start by the Orange defensively could make this game over way too soon.

Mike: Feed the Machine

It's not often you have a near 20-ppg player at your disposal - but both teams do here. Former Pitt commit Judah Mintz nearly willed SU to a comeback in last year's first ACC home game (24 points, five steals, five rebounds, four assists), but he was one-upped by Panthers' forward Blake Hinson (25 points, 13 rebounds, four assists) in the loss. With the hot streaks both guys are on, the Orange need to get their star room to work with the ball so this time he can outshine his competitor.

Szuba: Don’t let Hinson beat you

Blake Hinson averaged 23.5 points per game against Syracuse last season. While the Orange won’t play much 2-3 zone this time around, we’ve seen Syracuse look *Zion Williamson voice* lackadaisical on defense at times, failing to locate shooters. Luke Bumbalough of Niagara says hi. The good news for Syracuse is that Hinson is coming off a season-low five points in his latest game. But Hinson will make Syracuse pay from deep if they’re not defending on the catch. Ishmael Leggett and Carlton Carrington are good players, but The Orange has to make someone other than Hinson beat them.

Max: Force Pitt to the line

Pittsburgh’s offense takes care of the ball well and is an above-average shooting team. But their one kryptonite to this point is how the Panthers shoot at the free-throw line, just 68.4% (262nd in country). Syracuse’s defense can’t allow anything easy in the paint, and fouling could end up saving it some points. I’d target Pitt center Federiko Federiko or forward Guillermo Diaz Graham, who both shoot under 56%. I don’t want the defense turning into “Hack a Shaq” mode, but it could prove beneficial towards the end of the game.

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What will you be watching for tomorrow?