ACC commissioner John Swofford explained the additions:
“Pittsburgh and Syracuse serve to enhance the ACC’s reach into the states of New York and Pennsylvania and geographically bridges our footprint between Maryland and Massachusetts. With the addition of Pitt and Syracuse, the ACC will cover virtually the entire Eastern Seaboard of the United States.”
The Big East Conference was dealt a huge blow with the loss of two of the league’s vital pieces, especially for basketball. As a member of the Big East, Syracuse had made 28 NCAA Tournament appearances, four Final Fours, and won the National Championship in 2003. They had been Big East regular-season champions nine times and won the conference tournament five times.
Pitt, meanwhile, has made 18 NCAA Tournament appearances, had been Big East regular season champions six times (four times since 2002), and won the conference tournament twice.
Many questioned how these teams would fit into ACC basketball life, as Syracuse brought in their famed 2-3 zone while Pitt toted their rugged, physical style of play. At times, with regards to Pitt, I would hear, “That style of play isn’t going to cut it in ACC territory.”
Though we currently have a very small sample size to work from, I would say that Pitt and Syracuse are doing just fine in their new conference home. Let’s recap both teams’ first season in the ACC thus far:
The No. 22 Panthers are currently 16-1 with a 4-0 ACC record. Though many have questioned their non-conference schedule, it is hard to argue against a team with a record like Pitt’s.
Pitt (current RPI of 16 and SOS of 116) has won 14 of its 16 games by 10-plus points. In the Legends Classic, Pitt dismantled Texas Tech 76-53 and blew out a pretty tough Stanford team 88-67. Stanford recently knocked off No. 17 Oregon. In the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Pitt took care of rival Penn State 78-69. Pitt’s only blemish comes from a 44-43 loss to current No. 19 Cincinnati (16-2) in the Jimmy V Classic.
In ACC play, Pitt overcame a 17-2 deficit on the road against NC State to win 74-62. Pitt welcomed Maryland into “the Pete” with a 79-59 victory, followed by a 80-65 win over Wake Forest. On Tuesday night, Pitt went into Georgia Tech and outrebounded the Yellow Jackets 38-18 en route to a 81-74 win. I can guarantee you that the Oakland Zoo is ready to welcome No. 23 Duke into the Peterson Events Center on Jan. 27.
The No. 2 Syracuse Orange are 17-0 with a 4-0 ACC record. Syracuse (current RPI of 7 and SOS of 90) has blown out Minnesota 75-67 and knocked off California 92-81 to win the Maui Invitational. They defeated No. 12 Baylor 74-67, and blew out Indiana 69-52 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Orange have also beaten No. 6 Villanova, a former Big East foe, 78-62.
In ACC play, Syracuse beat Miami 49-44 in a low-scoring affair, followed by a 72-52 blowout of Virginia Tech on the road. They then welcomed the North Carolina Tar Heels and pretty much had their way against an ACC powerhouse, winning 57-45. This was followed up by a 69-59 win at Boston College.
Going into the season, Syracuse was expected to be a top-10 team, but I thought the ACC was supposed to give Pitt trouble? Pitt had not even been ranked until this past week.
So far, the only bad break for Pitt was the loss of arguably the best sixth man in the conference, as 6-foot-6 sophomore guard Durand Johnson (8.8 ppg) suffered a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season. ACC teams should be glad that 7-foot center Steven Adams declared for the NBA Draft last year and was taken at 12th overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It has also been interesting to see Pitt and Syracuse fans congratulating each other on their teams’ successes thus far. Instead of the former Big East teams having to adjust to ACC style, it appears that the rest of the ACC needs to adjust to the two former Big East powerhouses that have entered ACC country.
Jamie Dixon’s Panthers are led by 6-foot-5 senior guard Lamar Patterson (17.6 ppg, 4.6 apg) and 6-foot-9 senior center Talib Zanna (13.0 ppg, 8.1 rbg). 6-foot-4 junior guard Cameron Wright (10.8 ppg), 6-foot-3 sophomore point guard James Robinson (8.1 ppg, 4.1 apg) and 6-foot-8 freshmen forward Michael Young (6.1 ppg) round out the starting lineup.
Jim Boeheim’s Orange are led by 6-foot-8 senior forward C.J. Fair (17.1 ppg, 5.8 rbg) and 6-foot-4 sophomore guard Trevor Cooney (14.1 ppg). 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Jerami Grant (12.5 ppg, 6.6 rbg), 6-foot-2 freshmen guard Tyler Ennis (11.6 ppg, 5.6 apg), and 6-foot-9 junior forward Rakeem Christmas (5.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg) are important contributors for Syracuse.
Jamie Dixon has a career 10-4 record against Jim Boeheim and has won six of his last eight games at Syracuse. That is pretty impressive.
Pitt and Syracuse have had heavyweight clashes, vying for first place in the Big East over the years. Now, both teams have taken their act to the ACC and will battle for first place in front of a nationally televised audience on ESPN at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Carrier Dome.
Regardless of the winner, hopefully both teams continue to have success and make noise in the Big Dance in March.