Syracuse Orange at Pittsburgh Panthers

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SYRACUSE ORANGE (18-0, 5-0 in Big East) at PITTSBURGH PANTHERS (17-1, 5-0 in Big East)

This is what you call a “road” test. Up until now, the Syracuse Orange have stormed through the competition with a tenacious interior game, an athletic backcourt, and its dreaded 2-3 zone, a defensive approach that, like fine wine and Jim Boeheim, just keeps getting better with age. If there is one achievement missing from the Orange resume it would be the lack of a road victory over a ranked opponent. Monday night, No. 4 Syracuse gets a chance to check that one off its to-do list, when they face quite possibly the toughest road test in the nation (not named Duke or Kansas) with a visit to the Petersen Events Center to take on No. 5 Pittsburgh.

Sportsbook.com Line/Total: Pittsburgh -5.5 & 138.5

The Orange (18-0, 5-0) are just one victory away from matching the best start in school history, when they won 19 straight to start the ‘99-00 season. They are coming off of a week in which they blitzed two of the most improved teams in the Big East, St. John’s and Cincinnati, by an average margin of 16 PPG. Syracuse’s defense was superb in the two wins, holding the visiting Bearcats to 30.5% shooting from the floor last Saturday, after holding the Red Storm to 36.8% FG in Madison Square Garden three days earlier. Offensively, Syracuse appears to be shooting the ball from long range much better than it was the last time they played Pitt. That’s not hard, considering that in the last meeting the ’Cuse was just 1-for-13 from beyond the arc in last January’s 82-72 loss. In the past two victories, Boeheim’s squad has buried 15-of-34 long range attempts, that’s a 44% clip. There will be one major concern entering this game for the Orange and that is the health of leading scorer Kris Joseph (14.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG) who banged his head on the floor Saturday against Cincinnati, leaving the game for good after scoring just two points. Joseph did not make the trip to Pittsburgh and James Southerland will get the start in his place. He scored eight points and grabbed eight rebounds in 25 minutes filling in for the injured Joseph on Saturday.

Jamie Dixon’s squad is coming off of a 74-53 win over Seton Hall Saturday that was unusual when you examine the box scores to find that the leading scorers for Pitt were named Gary McGhee (13 points) and Talib Zanna (10 points). Not Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs, who tallied only nine and eight points respectively on a combined 7-for-22 shooting day. Dixon will need Gibbs (16.3 PPG) and Wanamaker (12.8 PPG), his two top scorers, to regain their form if the Panthers are going to extend their home court winning streak, while putting a stop to Syracuse’s season-opening win streak at 18.

There are a number of reasons why staying undefeated will be a daunting task for the Orange. Pick a number. The Panthers are 60-10 all-time versus Big East opponents in “The Pete.” Pitt has won 19 consecutive games in the building, 12 of them coming this season. Those 19 wins have been by an average of just under 20 PPG. Syracuse has historically struggled in the nine-year-old building, losers of five out of six trips there all-time. As for Pittsburgh, playing a highly-ranked opponent on its home court is nothing new. The Panthers have won eight straight games at home against teams ranked in the Top 5 of the AP Poll.

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