PITTSBURGH -- Remember Pittsburgh? The team picked to win the Big East?
Yes, rumors of the Panthers' death were slightly premature.
Somewhat forgotten behind a red-hot Syracuse team and thanks to a bizarre train wreck of a loss to Tennessee, Pitt reasserted its preseason expectations with a 74-66 win against Syracuse.
The win, however, comes with a caveat: No Kris Joseph for the Orange. The leading scorer stayed back home after a frightening fall on his head during the Cincinnati game this past Saturday.
The bad news: These two teams won’t meet again in the regular season thanks to the stilted Big East scheduling.
The good news: There’s always the Big East tournament.
What it means for Syracuse: The Orange drop out of the select company of undefeated teams, leaving Kansas, San Diego State and Ohio State to forge ahead without them. Other than that? This isn’t exactly a killer. There is little shame in losing at Pittsburgh. Period. There is even less shame in losing at the Oakland Zoo when your leading scorer is sitting back in New York, nursing a head injury and you once trailed by 19. The only real thing the Orange can’t afford to do is spend too much time wallowing in disappointment, not with Villanova coming to town on Saturday.
What it means for Pittsburgh: That whole preseason favorite thing? Yeah, that’s back on the table. The Panthers now stand alone atop the Big East standings, the only conference team without a blemish. They are 6-0 in the Big East for the first time in their history. Pitt’s very un-Pitt-like loss to Tennessee remains the lone blemish on its record and the Panthers frankly have a decent schedule in front of them. Aside from a home and away with Villanova and a game at West Virginia, the Panthers will easily be favored in the rest of their games.
Game ball goes to… Nasir Robinson: The junior scored eight of Pitt’s first nine points to spearhead the Panthers’ crazy 19-0 start, and finished with 21 points. He was lethal cutting through the Syracuse zone, scoring at the rim and dishing when the Orange sagged on him.
Not so Fab: Freshman Fab Melo started the game for the Orange, proceeded to get burned on two defensive plays and took an ill-thought jumper. Two minutes into the game, he went to the bench. He never came back. That’s what Jim Boeheim likes to call a teaching moment.
OK, your turn: In what had to be the most bizarre first half of basketball played this season, Pitt opened the game on a 19-0 run. Syracuse erased that with a 17-0 dash. The Panthers responded with seven unanswered and then the Orange matched that with a 7-0 run of their own. Not until the final minute, when the play-by-play read Lamar Patterson jumper, James Southerland 3-pointer, Ashton Gibbs 3-pointer did the two teams actually trade a succession of buckets.
Maybe it’s a Big East thing. Over the weekend, Providence blew a 17-point lead to South Florida and Marquette gave up an 18-point advantage against Louisville.
The difference? The Friars and the Golden Eagles both lost.