Ahead of Wednesday night’s matchup against Pitt, Syracuse has not played a game since Dec. 19, a layoff of over two weeks.
Through seven games, the Orange sit at 6-1, including a 1-0 conference record after defeating Boston College by 38 on Dec. 12. However, head coach Jim Boeheim’s squad has missed four straight games due to COVID-19 postponements. All four of those were ACC matchups, coming against Notre Dame, Wake Forest, North Carolina, and Florida State.
Originally, ‘Cuse was set to take on Florida State on Wednesday, but due to “a positive test, subsequent quarantining and contact tracing within the Florida State men’s basketball program,” the game was postponed by the ACC and replaced with a matchup against Pitt.
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“Well, it’s no fun not playing,” Boeheim said. “We had guys out. We had some guys who could have individual workouts, so it’s obviously a very difficult time and the players have done the best they can do.They’ve worked very hard with their individual stuff and we’ve had a couple practices with guys back. It’s not ideal, but it is what it is. We just have to do the best that we can right now.”
As they come into Pitt, the Orange have won their last three games, defeating Boston College, Northeastern, and Buffalo, who are ranked as the nos. 105, 161, and 111 teams in the nation by KenPom, respectively. Syracuse is currently ranked no. 30 on the list, while Pitt sits at no. 80.
In Jeff Capel’s tenure at Pitt, he is yet to take down the legendary Boeheim. Syracuse has defeated the Panthers in all five matchups in the two seasons Capel has been in Pittsburgh, the latest being a 72-49 victory last season at the Petersen Events Center. This year, Capel’s team will bring a tougher test for the Orange, although they are once again without forward Justin Champagnie.
“Pittsburgh is, you know, their guards are up and down, really fast, quick, attacking, multiple guys that can attack the basket,” Boeheim said. “They went into Northwestern and won, and Northwestern has been really good in terms of the Big Ten, which is obviously a very, very difficult conference.”
While Syracuse has dealt with lots of COVID-related scheduling issues this season, so have the Panthers. Pitt has not played since Dec. 22, when they fell to Louisville without Champagnie and Au’Diese Toney.
“I think when you play somebody that’s had games and practices consistently, say over a ten day period, they’ve played games and practiced and you haven’t, that’s probably a really big disadvantage,” Boeheim added. “But, you do the best you can in those situations. Again, our players have had to adjust to this already a couple times. I would just say that they’ve come through it as well as I can hope… In these times, we are trying to get ourselves ready to play and I’m sure Pittsburgh is doing the same thing. They’ve had some issues and you just have to hope you can get your team as ready to play as you can get them.”
Although Pitt has missed its last two games due to COVID, it has not had to pause activities yet this season, something that Syracuse has had to deal with twice now. When a program is on pause, the players are not allowed to practice, something Boeheim has gotten used to this season.
“I don’t even want to count the number, but we’ve missed 25 to 30 practices since the start of the basketball season, which is an incredible number,” he added. “I’m sure it’s right up there, probably, with the most missed practices of the country. It’s just what it is. You have to do the best you can, and the players have been great. They really have, and they have done a tremendous job. Our practices have been good, but there’s nothing like playing games. You can have really good practices, but then a game is a different kind of an opportunity and games can be a struggle when you haven’t played them.”
In recent weeks, many coaches around the ACC including Mike Krzyzewski and Jeff Capel have spoken out about the state of the current season, saying that there should be some reconsideration. Capel even suggested a mid-season pause. Boeheim, on the other hand, does not think there should be any changes made.
“Absolutely not,” he said when asked if the NCAA should have started the season in the spring. “You would’ve had to wait till June, maybe July, so that would be no season. We’ve played games, some teams have played eight, ten games already. I’m very hopeful we’ll get in 20 games, still, maybe more. I don’t think it will get worse, I think it can get a lot better, but I don’t know that. I am hopeful for that, but I know not playing at all, we wouldn’t have been able to start playing until June or July, and obviously that would not work at all. So I think we’ve done what we needed to do and I think at one time last week we had played about 70 to 75 percent of the games scheduled. So hopefully we can improve on that as we get through the rest of the year. But the option to not play, was never, I don’t think was ever, a good option.
On Monday morning, Boeheim also confirmed that Syracuse will have a full roster available for Wednesday night’s matchup. Pitt is expected to be short two or three players due to COVID-19 protocols in addition to Champagnie. The game will be televised on ACC Network with tipoff set for 4:30 p.m.