Pittsburgh-Syracuse Preview

The Associated PressJanuary 18, 2014

While Syracuse has been able to get by as one of the nation's top defensive teams, the Orange figure to be tested by one of the country's top shooting and rebounding clubs.

In an early showdown between the ACC's top two teams, No. 22 Pittsburgh looks to knock No. 2 Syracuse from the ranks of the unbeaten Saturday at the Carrier Dome.

Though they allowed Boston College to shoot 50.0 percent from the field and hit 9 of 21 from 3-point range, the Orange (17-0, 4-0) tightened things up during a decisive 16-1 second-half run en route to Monday's 69-59 road win.

''I thought overall our defense was good except for (their perimeter shooting),'' coach Jim Boeheim said. ''We played as bad offensively as we have all year.''

Boeheim's squad held its fifth straight opponent under 60 points as it continues to overcome an offensive slump. Syracuse, which seeks its third 18-0 start in four years, ranks eighth nationally by allowing opponents to average 58.4 points.

The Orange, however, have averaged 61.8 and shot 40.9 percent in ACC play after scoring 76.2 per game and shooting 47.4 percent during non-conference action.

It doesn't get any easier against former Big East foe Pittsburgh (16-1, 4-0), which allowed an opponent to surpass 70 points for only the second time in an 81-74 win at Georgia Tech on Tuesday - its sixth straight win.

The Panthers shot 56.9 percent against the Yellow Jackets and are shooting 51.6 percent four games into their first season in the ACC.

Pittsburgh, off to its best start in conference play since opening 7-0 in the Big East in 2010-11, might be a rare opponent that doesn't try to beat the Orange from the 3-point arc. The Panthers attempt just 14.0 per game - tied for 324th in the nation - and connect on 34.5 percent.

Tuesday's win was Pitt's first without sixth man Durand Johnson, who sustained a season-ending knee injury last Saturday. The sophomore forward was averaging 8.8 points with 22 3-pointers.

''When we lost Durand, that hurts us all,'' guard Cameron Wright said. ''We're playing even harder for him.''

Lamar Patterson, averaging a team-best 17.6 points, looks to bounce back after finishing with 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting in Tuesday's win.

Talib Zanna picked up the slack with 22 points to go with nine rebounds. Zanna has contributed a team-high 8.1 boards per game for the Panthers, who rank ninth nationally with a plus-9.4 rebounding margin.

''Rebounding is something we have to do to win on the road," coach Jamie Dixon said after his club outrebounded Georgia Tech 38-18.

While the Orange haven't been edged on the glass since a 74-67 win over then-No. 18 Baylor on Nov. 27, they could be without third-leading rebounder DaJuan Coleman because of a bruised knee that has cost him the past two games.

Trevor Cooney will try to provide a spark after finishing with 21 points against the Eagles. The sophomore guard has made at least two 3-pointers in seven straight games and is shooting 42.3 percent from long range on the season.

''Whenever he releases, we feel it's going in,'' senior C.J. Fair said.

Fair leads Syracuse with 17.1 points per game, but scored 12 while missing 9 of 13 in Monday's win. He had 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting in a 65-55 loss at Pittsburgh on Feb. 2 before finishing with 13 on 5-of-16 shooting in a 62-59 win in the Big East quarterfinals on March 14.

The Orange have won two of the last three meetings after the Panthers took 13 of 16 from 2001-11.