(19) Syracuse (24-8) vs. (17) Pittsburgh (24-7)
Thursday, March 14, 2 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Phil Neuffer, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Madison Square Garden (19,763) -- New York, New York. Television: ESPN. Home Record: Syracuse 17-2, Pittsburgh 16-3. Away Record: Syracuse 6-5, Pittsburgh 6-3. Neutral Record: Syracuse 1-1, Pittsburgh 2-1. Conference Record: Syracuse 11-7, Pittsburgh 12-6. Series Record: Syracuse leads, 62-39.
GAME NOTES: In the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden the sixth-seed Syracuse Orange will clash with the fourth-seed Pittsburgh Panthers on Thursday afternoon.
The winner of this matchup will move into Friday's semifinal round against the winner of Thursday's Cincinnati/Georgetown showdown.
Syracuse overcame a sluggish start in its first round matchup with Seton Hall to advance with a 75-63 victory. The Orange are hoping that their effort in the second half of that game can be a spark after they finished the regular season with losses in four of their last five games. Syracuse has five tournament titles to its credit as it plays in its final Big East Conference Tournament before heading to the ACC.
Jamie Dixon's squad defied expectations this season. The Panthers finished the regular season in the national rankings a year removed from its first season without an NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001. Pittsburgh was 24-7 overall during the regular season and 12-6 in league action with wins in its last four contests.
These teams met up at Petersen Events Center in early February. In that contest, the only one between them this season, the Panthers earned a 65-55 win against the Orange. Pittsburgh has now won six of the last seven meetings though it still trails the all-time series, 62-39.
After falling behind 13-3 in the early going, Syracuse woke up to rally and tie the game at halftime and then cruise in the second half against Seton Hall. James Southerland's hot shooting was a major reason as he nailed 6-of-9 shots from beyond the arc to finish with 20 points.
Southerland (13.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg) is one of four double-figure scoring threats on the roster for Syracuse. The 6-foot-8 forward is a difficult matchup for most teams with his ability to knock down shots from distance spreading the floor for the Orange. Perhaps the best takeaway, other than the result itself, from the battle with Seton Hall was the play of Brandon Triche (14.0 ppg). The 6-foot-4 guard had failed to score in double figures in three of the last four games of the season including a two-point effort against Georgetown. However Triche hit 6-of-9 from the field to finish with 17 points on Wednesday. C.J. Fair (14.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Michael Carter-Williams (12.3 ppg, 7.8 apg) also make contributions that can't be overlooked.
Pittsburgh has been off since its regular season finale rout of DePaul. In the victory the Panthers shot a school record 72 percent from the field, including a 9-of-14 effort from beyond the arc, to roll to an 81-66 victory. J.J. Moore was a perfect 8-of-8 from the field and scored 21 points off the bench.
Strong defense and efficient offensive play is the key for the Panthers this season. The Panthers rank seventh in the country in points allowed (56 pg) while also fitting into the top 30 teams nationally in opponent field goal percentage (.390). On offense the Panthers are scoring just under 70 points per game but they shoot the best percentage from the field in the Big East (.479) while ranking third nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.54). Tray Woodall (11.7 ppg, 5.3 apg) is the only double figure scorer on the roster but gets plenty of help from Lamar Patterson (9.9 ppg) and Talib Zanna (9.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg).
The Orange looked like the team that spent much of the season in the upper echelon of the national rankings. If Triche can keep it up and the rest of the roster follows suit Syracuse could very well get to Friday's semifinals.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Syracuse 70, Pittsburgh 66
03/14 10:32:24 ET