Pitt vs. Syracuse - Feb. 26, 2020 - 7PM - Live Game Thread
Pitt (15-13, 6-11) hosts Syracuse (15-12, 8-8) in Pittsburgh, Pa. on Wednesday night, as they celebrate the graduating senior members of the Panthers men's basketball program. Notably, junior center Samson George will participate in Senior Day activities alongside fellow scholarship graduates Eric Hamilton and Kene Chukwuka.
This is an important development because it signals the likely end of George's athletics career at Pitt, which would seem to open up a fourth scholarship for the class of 2020. Pitt is still recruiting multiple 2020 players, including point guard Femi Odukale and forward William Jeffress. We will have more on this topic later, but for now, back to the game preview.
Pitt enters tonight's contest coming off of a close loss to Virginia at home, in which the Panthers mounted an incredible comeback that fell just short. Pitt fell to the Cavaliers 59-56 after a spirited 17 to 6 run brought them back from down by 14 points.
Syracuse enters tonight's matchup off of a home win against Georgia Tech, following three straight losses to NC State, Florida State, and Louisville. Pitt lost to the Orange 69-61 in their first matchup of this season, just last month in the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.
Players to watch:
Syracuse - Buddy Boeheim. Do I even need to explain this one? The sophomore guard and son of Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has displayed an annoying penchant for destroying the Panthers early on in his basketball career. Through his first four matchups with Pitt, Boeheim has shot 52.8 percent from the floor with an even more ridiculous 54.2 percent from three-point land.
He's averaged 15.0 points per game against the Panthers. If you're keeping track at home, those numbers absolutely dwarf his career averages--39.8 percent shooter, 37.4 percent from beyond the arc, 10.8 points per game. Boeheim, through his utter domination of the Panthers, has quickly earned the ire of Pitt fans, and you can bet that he'll get plenty of looks tonight against a Pitt team that has struggled to contain the three ball against any and all opponents for the past month.
Pitt - Xavier Johnson. It's no secret that Johnson's sophomore year has been a bit of a disappointment after his All-ACC Freshman Team honors last season. The star point guard has still put up some good numbers this season, but has not yet taken the leap to the next level that many hoped he would make coming into the 2019-20 season. Well, he showed flashes of just how good he can be during Saturday's comeback against Virginia, posting 16 points on 60.0 percent shooting, a whopping six steals, four assists, three rebounds, and just two turnovers.
Johnson has done a nice job at limiting the turnovers this season compared with last year, and his assists have been on the rise. But the shooting just hasn't been there, and he has yet to show that he can consistently be a quality ACC defender. Well, he flashed brilliance against the Cavaliers, with the kind of shooting performance that Pitt desperately needs from him, along with stout defense that helped Pitt get back into the game late with a real chance to steal one away from a good ACC opponent.
The question is whether Johnson can build on that success and string together a nice stretch to end the season. If he can, Pitt may very well win a couple more ACC contests going into the ACC tournament--but it will heavily depend on the play of its sophomore point guard.
According to ESPN, Pitt has a 49.2 percent chance of winning tonight's game. In KenPom's college basketball rankings, Pitt's slide continues and they find themselves ranked all the way down at no. 103 in the country, while Syracuse sits at no. 59. The game tips off at 7 p.m. EST and will be broadcast on the ACC Network.
What do you think will happen today? Sound off in our live game thread! We'll be discussing Pitt hoops throughout the game.