Unbeaten Syracuse is on the verge of matching the best start in team history. Pittsburgh is standing in the way again, and presenting the Orange with their toughest test yet.
Third-ranked Syracuse will try to improve to 19-0 by handing No. 5 Pittsburgh its second home loss in nearly three years Monday night.
Syracuse (18-0, 5-0 Big East) is on the verge of equaling the school-record start set in 1999-2000.
Syracuse should be in for another major challenge against Pittsburgh (17-1, 5-0), which ended the then-No. 5 Orange’s 13-game season-opening winning streak with an 82-72 victory at the Carrier Dome last Jan. 2.
That was Syracuse’s seventh loss in eight meetings and fourth in a row.
The Orange have lost five of six at the Petersen Events Center, where Pittsburgh has gone 50-1 in its last 51 games. The Panthers’ lone blemish was a loss to then-No. 12 Georgetown on Jan. 20, which they’ve followed up with 19 straight wins by an average of 19.9 points.
Pitt has won eight straight at home against teams ranked in the top 5.
“It is definitely a true away game,” Syracuse sophomore guard Brandon Triche said. “I don’t expect to see too much orange in the stands. Blue and gold will be in full effect. I’ve heard Pittsburgh is one of the toughest places to play in the country. I haven’t experienced anything like that yet.
“Definitely going to be a great test for us.”
The Panthers kept their home streak intact and extended their overall run to seven with a 74-53 win over Seton Hall on Saturday. Afterward, coach Jamie Dixon was already looking ahead to Syracuse.
“Obviously they’re good, but we pretty much know what we’re going to get from them knowing their returning players and knowing what they’ve done year-after-year,” he said. “There’s a lot of hype about it. I’m looking forward to it.”
Syracuse will try to continue its hot shooting from 3-point range after making one of 13 attempts against Pitt last season. The Orange have connected on 44.1 percent (15 of 34) from beyond the arc over the last two games.
Syracuse, though, may be without leading scorer Kris Joseph, averaging 14.6 points per game. The junior forward slammed the back of his head on the court on a drive to basket in the first half Saturday and didn’t return after scoring two points.
If he’s unable to play, forward James Southerland would likely get his first start. The sophomore had eight points and eight rebounds in 25 minutes while filling in for Joseph against the Bearcats.
Rick Jackson, the Big East leader with 11.7 rebounds a contest, is looking for a much better effort against Pitt after being held to 14 total points and 11 boards over three meetings. The senior forward shot 7 of 8 for 15 points while pulling down 11 rebounds Saturday.
Pittsburgh could use a bounce-back game from Ashton Gibbs, who scored a season-low eight points against Seton Hall while going 3 of 13 from the field and 2 of 9 from beyond the arc. He had totaled 41 points in the previous two games.
The junior guard leads the team with an average of 16.3 points and scored 24 against Syracuse last season.