BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Syracuse vs Pittsburgh
March 11, 2006
I do not think anyone saw this final coming when the ball tipped off at noon on Wednesday. Syracuse entered the Big East Tournament clinging to their hopes of a bid to the NCAA Tournament coming off three consecutive losses, by a combined total of 64 points! Pittsburgh entered the tournament losing three of their last four, including a home loss to Seton Hall in their last game. Now, later tonight, they will tip off under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden for the coveted Big East Tournament title.
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It seems as though Syracuse has been read their last rites three times already this week, but Gerry McNamara just continues to add to his leged around the Salt City and the Syracuse program. McNamara beat Cincinnati on Wednesday with his running 3-pter with 0:00:5 on the clock and then drilled one from NBA range to force overtime in the waning seconds in their upset of #1 Connecticut. Last night, it was more McNamara magic as Syracuse rallied from a 15-pt halftime defecit behind his five 2nd half 3-pters, including one in the last minute to cut Georgetown's lead to 1, 57-56. After a Demetris Nichols steal, McNamara then added his biggest assist (27 in three games) with a beautiful left-handed bounce pass to freshmen Eric Devendorf that beat Roy Hibbert and Devendorf provided the Orange with the winning bucket in their 58-57 win over the Hoyas.
In Pittsburgh's first game, the Panthers rolled out to a 33-5 lead over Louisville and still had a 43-16 lead with 17 minutes left before the Panthers took a nap and had to hold on for a 61-56 win. On Thursday, it looked bleak for Pitt as they fell behind early by 12 points against West Virginia, playing without starting forward Levon Kendall. The Panthers closed to within 7 at the half before mowing past WVU in the last 10 minutes for a 68-57 win. After a slow start last night, Pitt closed the 1st half on a 30-12 run to take a 32-21 lead at the half over Villanova and cruised for much of the 2nd half for the 68-54 win.
Pitt is doing it with defense, allowing just 55.7 PPG in their three tournament games. Plus, they have different people stepping up all over the court. As usual, they will pound the boards as they dominated Louisville, West Virginia and Villanova on the boards and they will play nine or 10 players in a regular rotation. Kendall's back is a concern and John DeGroat has a nagging groin injury, but otherwise, Pittsburgh is healthy. The quick turnaround in games does seem to be taking a toll on Aaron Gray, Pitt's 7'0 250 lb C, however, as he has struggled finishing around the basket.
Gerry McNamara has been bothered by a nagging groin injury as well, but Terrence Roberts should be well rested as he spent much of the Georgetown game seated right next to Jim Boeheim. The biggest lift the Orange has gotten, other than the obvious from McNamara, has been Darryl Watkins who has played his best on both ends in the tournament. Georgetown did have very good success getting inside the SU zone with some excellent interior passing, but they did not finish their shots and struggled from the line. Pittsburgh has always been a team that has cracked the Syracuse zone very well as Pitt has won seven of the last nine meetings between the two teams.
Earlier this season, Pittsburgh beat the Orange 80-67 in Pittsburgh. Carl Krauser led the Panthers with 32 pts. The length and athleticism of Watkins and Roberts will make things tough on Gray inside, in their first meeting, the Pitt center shot just 1-10. Most teams believe speeding up Pittsburgh is the way to go, but if Syracuse can lull Pittsburgh into a slower pace against their zone and get them to settle for passing around the perimeter and attempting outside shots, they have a great opportunity at keeping the score in the 50's until the last minute and then hope for some more McNamara magic.
No matter who wins, history will be made as no team has ever won four games in the Big East Tournament. Sometimes, it just looks like a magical run, and it certainly has that feel for the Orange who will also enjoy a healthy edge in fan support. This just looks to be the week for Syracuse, they could turn around and lose next Thursday or Friday again, like last year, but this certainly looks like their week. Pittsburgh will be game and tough...but, another night of McNamara magic edges the Panthers.
NBE Blogger Prediction:
Syracuse 64 Pittsburgh 63