The No. 3-ranked Syracuse Orange have won many of their games with quality team play. The Orange (18-0, 5-0 Big East), who will be playing without their best player and leading scorer, junior forward Kris Joseph, will need to rely on a cohesive unit even more Monday night as they travel to the No. 5/4 Pittsburgh Panthers (17-1, 5-0) for a Big East Conference, Big Monday showdown at the Petersen Events Center (7:30 p.m. on ESPN).
Joseph, who's averaging 14.6 points-per game and is second in the team in rebounding (5.2 per game), suffered a head injury Saturday against the Cincinnati Bearcats, who lost 67-52. SU, which led 35-31 at halftime, used a 16-0 run to win easily. The Orange are now just one win away from tying a school record for best start to a season, which currently stands at 19-straight victories set by the 1999-'00 squad.
Filling in for Joseph in the starting lineup is sophomore forward James Southerland, who came off the bench Saturday to net eight points and collect eight rebounds. SU head coach Jim Boeheim will also want freshman center Fab Melo to play more than the normal amount of minutes. Melo, who has a tendency of earning quick fouls during the first half of games, was a big contributor in the second half with six points and four blocks.
Currently, Pittsburgh is on a seven-game winning streak, which has featured the Panthers defeating opponents by an average margin of 15.7 points. Pitt, who was the Big East Preseason favorite by league coaches, is also on a 19-game home winning streak. Also, add that the Panthers are undefeated (8-0) against Top-5 teams at home and no Syracuse player has ever beat Pitt makes a victory seem almost impossible.
From the 3-point land -- an aspect that is key in beating Syracuse's 2-3 zone -- the Panthers rank No. 1 in the conference in percentage (.392) but only ninth in attempts (17.1). Junior guard Ashton Gibbs leads the team in average 3-point attempts (7.2 a game) and leads the conference in made 3-pointers (3.3). Gibbs also leads the team in scoring (16.3). However, Syracuse is eighth in the nation in field goal percentage defense (.372).
Pittsburgh also leads the nation in rebound margin (plus 13.1) and assists (20.1 per game).