|Thursday, January 16
Pitt's big boys welcome Orange to town
By Jay Bilas
Special to ESPN.com
Pittsburgh is one of the strongest teams in the country, not to mention one of the most patient and methodical offensive teams you will ever see. Syracuse, meanwhile, will finally be the complete team Jim Boehiem expected to have back on the opening night of the 2002-03 season.
Syracuse gets freshman Billy Edelin back for this game, about two months after he should have been back. Edelin was suspended for the first 12 Syracuse games after playing in a over-40 men's league last fall while not part of the Syracuse basketball team or enrolled in school.
But, even without Edelin, the Orangemen (11-1) have a very good offensive team that has not lost since getting clipped the first game of the season by Memphis. In fairness, Syracuse received the news about Edelin's suspension hours before its opener, and did not handle the news well. It clearly affected Syracuse's play on the floor that night. Since opening night, however, the Orangemen have won 11 straight games.
Pittsburgh Breakdown: The Panthers (13-1) are such a veteran team that it looks to run its plays to completion, which makes it very difficult to take Pitt out of its patterns. In order to beat Pittsburgh, Syracuse must find a way to take the Panthers out of their routine, and make the Panthers make plays out of their normal schemes.
The problem for teams that play Pitt, however, is that its so strong that the Panthers are able to run their stuff in spite of pressure. The Panthers just run through their cuts, and run their sets to completion. This allows Pitt to control the tempo on offense. It'll be Syracuse's priority to take Pittsburgh out of its sets. And Pitt will be challenged by the Orangemen's 2-3 match-up zone, which presents a far different look than the man-to-man defenses Pitt is used to seeing.
Point guard Brandin Knight will be the key in attacking the Orange zone. By penetrating into the zone, and finding flashing big men in the middle of the zone, Knight can find holes in the weakest spot of Syracuse's defense.
Pitt is just relentless in its defensive mind set, picking teams up at the 3-point line and playing a physical style of defense that denies penetration off of the dribble and swarms the ball. The Panthers send five guys to the defensive boards, bump every cut, box out on every shot attempt, and challenge every shooter. While Pitt is tough to take out of their stuff, they are very proficient at taking teams out of their offense.
The Panthers are not tall, but are big and strong defenders who put their bodies on the line, take charges and dive on the floor for loose balls. Julius Page is the Panthers' best on-ball defender, and the lefty guard can really pressure the ball He is lighter, quicker and shooting it better than last year. Jaron Brown, also a lefty, is also strong defensively, and is very good off the ball. He is an outstanding guard rebounder from the wing and is very versatile.
But the leader of the team is Knight, who is quick, athletic and a very smart competitor. Knight is not scoring or assisting at the same rate as last season, but that is because his teammates are better this year. Knight was late into the conditioning process due to off-season knee surgery, but he seems to be at 100 percent. Carl Krauser, a freshman point guard, can play alongside or in place of Knight, and is a competitive New Yorker who can really defend and penetrate, looking to kick the ball to open people.
Pitt's big men have made a tremendous difference for Ben Howland. Ontario Lett, Chevon Troutman, Toree Morris and Donatas Zavackas are all strong defenders and rebounders, each with five fouls (and more bruises) to give. Lett has great feet, and has been much more intense on the floor this season. Troutman has been great over the last six games, providing toughness, offensive rebounding and a big who can run the floor. Zavackas is a good shooter and tough as nails.
All of Pittsburgh's big men are good finishers around the basket, which is a big reason why Pitt is shooting a remarkable 52 percent from the floor as a team, while holding opponents to just 35-percent shooting. Granted, Pitt has not played the toughest of schedules up until conference play, and got beat by Georgia in its only real contest outside of conference play, but it is clear that Pitt can play with anyone.
Pitt's main problem is its free throw shooting. The Panthers only shoot 62 percent as a team, and Knight shoots a rank 41 percent from the stripe. He could close his eyes and hit close to that percentage. He is simply giving away points at the line.
Syracuse Breakdown: Getting Edelin on the court means the Orangemen have a point guard who can get to the basket and be creative with the ball. Edelin has a great knack for making off-balance layups when he penetrates to the hole, and he will also be able to look for Gerry McNamara, Kueth Duany and Carmelo Anthony on the perimeter.
Speaking of McNamara, the fellow freshman has done an outstanding job at the point in Edelin's absence. With Edelin running things, it'll free up McNamara to do what he does best -- shoot the ball. McNamara is an outstanding scorer and shooter, not to mention a good athlete who can spot up or shoots on the move. He has NBA range, and like J.J. Redick at Duke, McNamara is a terrific shooter who must be guarded.
The third freshman, Carmelo Anthony, is an absolute star and Jim Boeheim's first McDonald's All-America since John Wallace. Anthony is comparable to Caron Butler, only bigger. He is very skilled with the ball in his hands, whether he's dribbling, passing or shooting from behind the 3-point arc, posting up or driving to the basket. Anthony is the best all-around freshman in the country.
Hakim Warrick, just a sophomore himself, has star potential. Warrick is not a great offensive player, but is long and very athletic, and can get off his feet to score around the hole. Syracuse is a young team, but has good chemistry. The Orange will only get better with Edelin back into the mix.
More athletic than in year's past, Syracuse likes to push the ball up the court quickly, running some 5-out motion with high screens, ballscreens, staggers, curls and several guys who can go off the bounce. Anthony is a threat to score every time he touches it and commands double teams, which allows him to pass the ball with creativity.
Syracuse is very good offensively, and improving on the defensive end. The Orange has bodies and good athletes who can extend out of that zone and make it tough for Pitt to shoot over the defense. It's no secret, Syracuse likes to play a 2-3 zone, which will trap the sides, corners and on out-of-bounds situations. The zone contests passes, closes gaps on penetration, uses length and athleticism. Syracuse will play some man-to-man, with top-of-the key pick-up, along with some 1-2-1-1 on a made free throw.
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