Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - When it was announced Syracuse and
Pittsburgh would make the move to the ACC this season, expectations were
that the two former Big East powers would be immediate contenders in their new
There is just over a month remaining before March Madness and, suffice to say,
the Orange and the Panthers have each done much more than contend, they have
That is especially true of Syracuse. The perennial favorite in the former Big
East looks right at home in the ACC, piling up wins no matter what teams line
up on the other side. The Orange (20-0, 7-0 ACC) are ranked No. 2 in the
nation - a spot they've held for two months - with the only team standing in
their way the also-undefeated Arizona Wildcats.
As always for coach Jim Boeheim's club, the success has been built on all-
consuming defense. At this point just about every coach, player, broadcaster
and any other person who has even a slight interest in the college game knows
about Syracuse's 2-3 zone. Yet that doesn't mean every opponent is ready for
This season, the Orange are ranked sixth in the ACC in scoring defense (57.8
ppg) while leading the conference with nine steals per game. Their zone attack
gives teams very few passing lanes, forces contested jumpers and keeps talented
one-on-one scorers from being able to take over games. Just ask Boston
College's Olivier Hanlan, who is second in the ACC in scoring. Against Syracuse
he managed only 13 points on 2-of-7 field-goal shooting.
Of course, the Eagles are not one of the premier programs in the ACC, but
Syracuse has taken care of teams held in that esteem as well, including a
57-45 triumph over North Carolina earlier this month.
"Syracuse, so far this year, has played better than anybody else," Tar Heels
head coach Roy Williams said of the Orange's first year in the ACC.
"Everybody's going to have to play their best. You're not going to beat
Syracuse unless your playing to the top of your potential."
Williams also had some words of warning for his fellow ACC coaches about
Syracuse's brand of defense.
"There are other teams that play zone, but they probably play it as well as
anybody. It is an adjustment for everybody (in the conference)," Williams said.
While defense has been the key, the Orange's balance and disciplined style on
offense also has been critical to their dominance. They are last in the ACC in
turnovers (9.5 per game), so opponents, who are already getting fewer
possessions against them, rarely make up for it by forcing the Orange into
All of the impressive numbers and accolades have come despite a sizable amount
of roster turnover from last year's Final Four squad. Boeheim no longer has
Michael Carter-Williams to run the point, James Southerland to splash in 3-
pointers or Brandon Triche to provide leadership. However, the players who
stepped in are playing as if they have been starting for years.
Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis (12.3 ppg, 5.3 assists per game, 2.5 spg) has
transitioned to the point nicely, without any prior college experience. Trevor
Cooney (13.2 ppg, 40.1 3-point percentage) has gone from bench-warmer to 3-
point marksman, and Jerami Grant (12.4 ppg, 6.8 rebounds per game) has provided
the size and athleticism off the bench that Southerland brought to the table
Leading the way for the new guys is C.J. Fair. A versatile scoring forward,
who led the team in points scored a season ago, Fair (16.7 ppg, 6 rpg) can
handle the ball and knock down shots from anywhere on the floor, while proving
to be a matchup nightmare for opposing backcourts and frontcourts, depending on
where he is positioned.
While Fair and Co. have stolen the national spotlight, Pittsburgh has been
quietly putting together one of the best seasons among other ACC teams.
Although the Panthers fell to Duke on Monday, they are still 18-3 overall, in
possession of the No. 18 spot in the AP Top 25 and tied with the Blue Devils
for third in the conference standings.
Just like the Orange, the Panthers have brought a dedication to the defensive
end of the floor from their days in the Big East. They are currently 15th
nationally in scoring defense (61.1 ppg) while holding foes to 40.6 percent
Where they differ from the Orange is on offense. Although both teams do not
turn the ball over very often, the Panthers have been efficient in other ways
as well, leading the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.61) and field goal
percentage (.485). Each of those marks is among the top 20 nationally.
Lamar Patterson (17.7 ppg, 4.5 apg) is certainly in the running for All-ACC
honors as he has been effective on both ends for the Panthers. The 6-foot-5
swingman is fourth in the conference in scoring and fifth in assists as well
as a disruptive defender. The talent in the backcourt doesn't end there, with
Cameron Wright (10.8 ppg) and James Robinson (8.4 ppg, 4.2 apg) giving head
coach Jamie Dixon plenty of options at the guard spots.
For all the positives, Pittsburgh has yet to really prove itself against top-
tier competition, with all but one of its wins against teams from outside the
RPI Top 50. It also has lost all three of its duels with ranked foes,
including the 80-65 setback it suffered at home against 17th-ranked Duke.
However, Dixon was quite aware of the difficult challenges such a storied
conference as the ACC would present and will continue to present.
"We have a lot of great teams to play against and a lot of great places to
play at. We are fortunate," Dixon said of his team's new conference home,
following his team's second league test against Virginia. "We went form a
great conference to another great conference. We are excited to be a part of
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