Preview | Pitt men’s basketball looks to begin final regular season stretch with win against Syracuse


Pamela Smith | Visual Editor

Graduate student guard Jamarius Burton (11) dribbles the ball down the court during Pitt men’s basketball’s game against West Virginia on Friday night.

By Mason Carter, Staff Writer

With three games left in the regular season, the Pittsburgh Panthers have control of their own destiny to capture the regular season ACC title. With Virginia suffering a shocking loss to Boston College, the Panthers sit in second place, a half-game back from Miami. With the title in reach, the Panthers first must take care of business against the Syracuse Orange.

Pitt men’s basketball (20-8, 13-4 ACC), will look to start its three game journey to a title, by knocking off Syracuse (16-11, 9-8 ACC), in the last home game of the season. This is the first game the Panthers will face Jim Boeheim since he made comments about Pitt “buying a team”.

This is the second matchup of the season between these two teams, with the first ending in a close win for Pitt back in December. Junior forward Blake Hinson scored 25 points, while graduate student guard Nelly Cummings scored 22 to prevent the comeback victory for the Orange.

The Orange are led by one of the best guard duos in the ACC. Senior guard Joseph Girad III and former Pittsburgh commit first-year guard Judah Mintz lead the Orange in scoring with 16.8 and 16.0 points per game, respectively. When the ball isn’t in these two guards’ hands, they look to feed their senior center Jesse Edwards, who averages 13.9 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Outside of these three players, Syracuse doesn’t get much production from anybody else.

Meanwhile, the Panthers are led by graduate student guard Jamarius Burton and Hinson, with both averaging 15.6 points per game. Burton and Hinson led the Panthers in scoring in 19 out of their 28 games this season. The Panthers also have two other scorers averaging double digits — Cummings and graduate student guard Greg Elliot.

While Syracuse doesn’t have much depth, the Panthers have multiple players who can go for 20 points on any given day. Cummings led the Panthers in scoring in their last game against Georgia Tech, dropping 22 points in the win against the Yellow Jackets. He’s caught fire as of late, averaging 13.6 points and 5.8 assist over his last six games. Another big game is needed out of him as he is the key facilitator for this Panthers team. The ball moves around more when he’s in the game as he always makes the right passes.

But the Panthers will struggle to drive downhill against Syracuse, as they run a 2-3 zone and like to collapse down and double-team drivers to the basket. 

Also, they like to dare teams to shoot the three-pointer. But this isn’t a problem, as the Panthers have Elliot, who is the best shooter on the team, with a 41.9% three-point percentage. Behind him are Hinson, who shoots 38.5% from the three, and Cummings, with a 34.8% three-point percentage. 

If the three-point shot doesn’t fall, the Panthers might have some struggles trying to score on Syracuse. Their paint is well protected by Edwards, who ranks No. 7 in the nation in blocks per game. Guards Jamarius Burton and Nike Sibande might struggle to find some buckets, as their games rely a lot on attacking the basket.

On the other side of the court, sophomore center Federiko Federiko holds down the paint. He is currently ranked No. 3 in the ACC in blocks per game, with 1.9. As the season progressed, Federiko began to play better down in the frontcourt against opposing bigs. He’s a defensive anchor for the Panthers, not only providing blocks, but contesting shots without fouling.

Still, the Panthers need to get off to a quick start and find their groove with the three-point shot. If the three-point shot starts rolling, then the Panthers will easily handle Syracuse. If the shots aren’t falling, then the Panthers must find other ways to score against the tough zone defense. 

This is a big test in head coach Jeff Capel’s tenure as he approaches three of the biggest games in his career. As long as he focuses on the hand at task and doesn’t get ahead of himself, then the Panthers should find themselves victorious Saturday.

With an understanding of the stakes of the game, the crowd will likely play a factor on Saturday. The Peterson Event Center is expected to reach capacity as the game has already sold out for senior night. 

Tip off is set for 5 p.m. on Saturday and coverage will air on the ACC Network.