Carl Krauser and Aaron Gray hang their heads as the Orange beat the Panthers, 49-46, February 29, 2004, the last time Syracuse beat Pitt at Petersen Events Center.
Dante Taylor and the Panthers are in dire need of a signature win for their NCAA tournament resume, and Syracuse presents a chance to get just that.
By Ray Fittipaldo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Listen to the nonstop NCAA tournament banter that begins before the first game of the season is even played and the buzz words are heard ad nauseam -- there are good RPI wins, resume wins and signature wins.
These are what the NCAA tournament hopefuls must compile in order to make the 68-team field. Pitt enters its game against Syracuse this afternoon at Petersen Events Center with a 17-5 record but lacking such a victory to its credit.
The Panthers are 0 for 4 in games against teams currently in The Associated Press top 25, with losses to No. 1 Michigan, No. 12 Louisville, No. 24 Cincinnati and No. 25 Marquette. The closest thing Pitt has to a quality win is its 28-point victory at Georgetown, which was No. 19 at the time but is No. 26 in the poll and No. 35 in the Ratings Percentage Index.
In the most recent NCAA tournament projections, Pitt remains comfortably in the field of 68, but the Panthers have been labeled as a team that merely wins games they are supposed to win and loses games against quality opponents.
Syracuse, No. 6 in the AP poll and No. 9 in the RPI, represents a terrific opportunity for the Panthers to get that much-needed signature win.
"We have to get this 'W' against the top team in the Big East," junior forward Lamar Patterson said. "We need a win like this right now."
Syracuse has won 28 of its past 30 Big East games, one of the most dominant stretches in the history of the league. After finishing with a 17-1 record in Big East games last season, Jim Boeheim's squad won its first six conferences games this season before losing last week at Villanova.
"It's a big game," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "The guys are excited. It's a team we have a long history with and have played a lot of great games with. We have to go out and play our best basketball."
Pitt and Syracuse have played 100 times with the Orange winning 62 of those meetings, but the Panthers have dominated the series in recent years. Pitt has won 8 of the past 10 games and has not lost to Syracuse at home since Feb. 29, 2004.
Syracuse will play with just seven scholarship players. Starting forward James Southerland, the team's second-leading scorer, will sit out a fifth consecutive game because he is academically ineligible.
Matchup: Pitt (17-5, 5-4 Big East) vs. No. 6 Syracuse (18-2, 6-1) , noon today, Petersen Events Center.
Pitt: Four-game winning streak was snapped Monday at Louisville, 64-61. ... Has won 8 of the past 10 meetings against Syracuse, which beat the Panthers for the first time since 2006 a year ago at Carrier Dome. ... Has a 12-1 record against teams ranked in the top 10 of the AP poll at Petersen Events Center. ... Junior F Lamar Patterson (10.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg) has scored in double figures in five of the past six games. ... Senior G Tray Woodall (10.7 ppg, 5.6 apg) has five career 20-point games but only one this season.
Syracuse: Lost its first conference game a week ago at Villanova, 75-71, in overtime. ... Led by senior G Brandon Triche (14.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg) and junior F C.J. Fair (13.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg). ... Coach Jim Boeheim is in his 37th season at Syracuse and carries a 908-306 record into the game.
Hidden stat: Syracuse sophomore G Michael Carter-Williams leads the Big East in assists (8.9 per game) and steals (3.0 per game).
Earlier this week, Boeheim learned he would be without another starter, freshman forward DaJuan Coleman, who had surgery on his left knee and will be out four weeks.
"[Coleman] hasn't played a lot of minutes," Dixon said. "I don't know if it changes a lot. Obviously, you want to get them in foul trouble."
Coleman had been averaging 1.7 points in 7.9 minutes per game in Big East play. His replacement likely will be 6-foot-8 freshman Jerami Grant or forward C.J. Fair, who can play many positions.
Playing a short-handed team guarantees nothing, of course. Pitt played a Louisville team that was without two regulars from its rotation Monday night and failed to take advantage, losing to the Cardinals, 64-61.
Still, Pitt has reason to be confident. No matter what the situation has been in recent years, the Panthers have found ways to beat Syracuse.
In 2010, Syracuse was No. 3 when Pitt won, 74-66, at Petersen Events Center. In 2009, Pitt was unranked and beat the No. 5 Orange at the Carrier Dome, 82-77. And in 2008, Syracuse was ranked No. 8 when the Panthers waltzed to an 18-point home victory.
The secret has been Pitt's ability to attack the Orange's 2-3 zone defense that confounds most other opponents. The Panthers, though, have developed a comfort level playing against it.
Syracuse invites opponents to attempt 3-pointers, but the Panthers have been adept at passing their way to easy shots once they get the ball inside the zone. And when the Panthers have missed shots, they have used their offensive rebounding prowess for layups or second possessions.
"Syracuse's thinking will be you can't hit enough 3s in 40 minutes if that's what you're thinking," Dixon said. "It's playing the percentages. You can't rely on 3-point shooting to beat the zone. We never have. If you rely on that, you leave it up to one thing, and you don't want to be in that situation."
The other situation Pitt does not want to be in the third week of March is sweating out an NCAA tournament berth. The Panthers can make it a lot easier on themselves if they get that signature win out of the way sooner rather than later.
"Winning at Georgetown is a very good win, probably better than winning a home game," Dixon said. "But yeah, we have to win a game. That's what we're here to do. Road wins generally count more. But first and foremost, we have to win our home games. We haven't done that. We have to take care of business. We have to win a good game. We have to win Saturday, but so does every team playing, and there will be a whole lot playing on Saturday."