Syracuse-Pittsburgh Preview

The Associated Press

Either Syracuse or Pittsburgh will have its Big East tenure come to an end Thursday at Madison Square Garden.

The recent series history indicates Pitt is likely to extend its stay in New York by at least one day.

The No. 17 Panthers will try to carry their late-season momentum into their final Big East tournament by continuing their dominance of the 19th-ranked Orange.

Pitt (24-7) and Syracuse (24-8) are headed to the ACC as part of an exodus that will leave the conference looking vastly different next season.

Until then, one of these rivals will continue to call MSG home as the winner faces top-seeded Georgetown or No. 9 Cincinnati in the Big East semifinals on Friday night.

The Panthers have been rather comfortable at the Garden, going 30-15 over the last 13 years - including two wins in three tries this season.

"Our mentality over the years has been to treat it like a second home," coach Jamie Dixon said. "That's why we schedule the games, the tournaments that we're in. We get in every one possible."

Pittsburgh has won two conference tournaments at New York's basketball mecca, but the team has dropped four of five postseason games there since last winning it in 2008.

The Panthers should have a strong chance to begin making one final run. They've won 14 of the past 18 matchups with Syracuse, including a 65-55 victory over the then-No. 6 Orange on Feb. 2, and won four straight to end the regular season.

Tray Woodall led the way with 13 points in last month's meeting and Pitt held Syracuse to 36.7 percent shooting, including 3 of 14 from beyond the arc. Dixon's team also had a 39-24 rebounding edge

Woodall, a native of Brooklyn, feels the extra rest created by the double-bye won't be a factor this time. Pitt has lost the last three times it earned an automatic berth into the quarterfinals.

"I think the double-bye has affected us in the past, but we'll be ready to go," said Woodall, who had 18 points to help the Panthers cap a 12-6 regular season in the Big East with an 81-66 win at DePaul on Saturday.

He leads the team with an average of 11.7 points, but defense is the Panthers' calling card. They surrender a conference-low 55.2 points per game.

"I know Pitt plays a physical game," Syracuse forward James Southerland said. "We're going to go out and be physical and move the ball around. We'll be tough to guard."

Southerland and the Orange displayed that in Wednesday's 75-63 win over Seton Hall. The senior from Queens scored 20 points - hitting six of Syracuse's nine 3-pointers - while the team connected on 56.3 percent from the field overall.

Michael Carter-Williams dictated the pace with 14 assists, while fellow guard Brandon Triche and forward C.J. Fair had 17 and 16 points, respectively.

"Our offensive movement was the best it's been probably all year. We really moved the ball," coach Jim Boeheim said. "Mike played, I think, his best game of the year. James kept us in it when we weren't playing well. And then Brandon and C.J. got going in the second half.

"For us to be effective, Mike has to make plays, and Brandon and C.J. and James have to score."

Carter-Williams' ability to get his teammates involved certainly has a lot to do with Syracuse's results. The Orange are 18-0 when he has at least seven assists and 6-8 when he's held to six or fewer.

He struggled against Pitt earlier this season, managing two assists while making 3 of 12 from the floor.

The Orange, though, were without Southerland for that meeting while he served a six-game suspension for an academic issue.

The last time these teams met in the Big East tournament, the ninth-seeded Orange finished a staggering run of four wins in four days by beating the Panthers 65-61 for the 2006 championship behind MVP Gerry McNamara - currently one of Boeheim's assistants.

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