Pitt Brings a Two-Game Win Streak into a Storied Rivalry

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When I think of Pitt basketball, and their time spent playing competitively in the Big East, I remember many matchups pitting the Panthers against the Syracuse Orange.  Jim Boeheim, Gerry McNamara, Eric Devendorf, all names that became oh so familiar through regular season and Big East tournament battles.  Boeheim remains for the Orange, but the former style of Big East play does not.

The Panthers and the Orange have met on the hard court 119 times since their first matchup in January of 1914.  The Orange lead the overall series 72-47, and are 7-3 in their last 10 matchups against Pitt.  However, Pitt is currently riding a 2-game win streak in the rivalry. 

Despite meeting just once in the Big East Championship, the Orange and the Panthers met several times in the earlier rounds of the tournament, and then joined the ACC together in 2013.  That 2006 Big East Championship has since been vacated for Syracuse by the NCAA, but the memories remain.  While old rivals like Connecticut, Marquette, and Georgetown were lost in the disbanding of the old Big East, some rivalries like the one with Syracuse were carried over in the move.

Syracuse comes into tonight’s matchup 7-8 overall and 1-3 in conference play.  They have had a brutal road so far, playing upper end ACC teams like Miami, Wake Forest, and Virginia, with losses to all three.  Their lone ACC win is against Florida State who has fallen to the bottom half of the conference standings. 

However, instead of the gritty and defensive Big East team of ole, the Orange have adopted more of an ACC style of play.  In addition to averaging 78.5 points per game, the Orange are currently making about 38% of their three-point attempts, good for 30th in all of Division 1.  Fortunately for the Panthers, the Orange are also giving up 76.5 points per game, ranking them 320th. 

Pitt plays a more, old Big East, style of basketball.  The Panthers are ranked 88th in points given up per game at only 64.9.  They have been very effective defensively and do a good job of keeping opponents off the glass.

However, they are having a ton of trouble scoring and have, again, lost their best 3-point shooter in Ithiel Horton to a suspension.  Pitt is scoring just 62.4 points per game, ranked 325th in the nation, and legal charges previously dropped against Horton were just refiled before Pitt’s win against Boston College on Saturday.  Pitt will need to continue to count on scoring in the paint as opposed to beyond the arc, especially in Horton's absence.

It’s a true matchup of opposite styles and we’ll get to see first-hand which one wins out.  Will it be the fast-paced, three point shooting of the Orange led by coach’s son Buddy Boeheim, or the lockdown defensive style of Pitt, along with their desire to force the ball inside to superstar center John Hugley.  Regardless, it is nice to see this storied rivalry renewed for the first time this season.  Games between these two programs always make for great basketball.