Wednesday’s Pitt/Syracuse basketball contest isn’t a “winner take all” game. It could become a “loser loses everything” game though.
And sometimes those are even more tense to play (ask the Jets how that fourth quarter went up in Buffalo during week seventeen of the NFL’s regular season).
It’s likely that the winner of the noon tip will secure a bid to the NCAA tournament. It’s also possible the loser won’t be selected on Selection Sunday. And in Pitt’s case this game is a referendum on one guy. It’s up to one person to prevent a potential slip off of this oversized 2016 NCAA bubble.
This is the line where you thought you were going to read: Head Coach Jamie Dixon, right?
No. The referendum on Dixon is constant. It’s ongoing. It has been since Scottie Reynolds’ game winner went through the hoop in the 2009 Elite Eight. Getting into the tournament and losing in its first or second round (which will likely be Pitt’s eventual outcome) won’t alter many opinions on Dixon.
They shouldn’t. After all, that’s how things have gone for the most part since that fateful loss to the Wildcats in Boston.
Rather, this game is completely on the shoulders of one player: Jamel Artis.
You may be thinking that I’m being unfair. You might be of the opinion that no college hoops player should be individually responsible for so much.
You’d be correct. You’d also be ignoring reality. Because as Jamel Artis goes…so goes Pitt when the Panthers play Syracuse. They’ve beaten the Orange four straight times. And look at how Artis has played in those contests.
2/7/15…30 min/7-14 (1-5 3pt)/5-6 FT//20 pts/10 Reb/5 Ast/3 Steals
2/21/15….38 min/7-15 (1-4 3pt)/1-2 FT/16 pts/6 Reb/7 Ast
12/30/15…35 min/6-12 (1-5 3pt)/5-9 FT/18 pts/9 Reb/8 Ast/2 steals
2/20/16…30 min/7-11 (3-6 3pt)/4-5 FT/21 pts/11 REB/4 Ast
Why has Artis been so good against Syracuse? Simple. When he is right, he’s the perfect player to beat their 2-3 zone. When Artis is right he can rebound, show off a mid-range game, hit the occasional three, move the ball with an extra pass, and penetrate to get to the line and get Syracuse’s limited front court in foul trouble.
And on defense (at 6’-7”/220) he’s versatile enough to check the likes of Michael Gbinije, Malachi Richardson, Tyler Lydon or Tyler Roberson when needed. He has Boeheim-buster written all over him.
Again…when he’s right.
Artis hasn’t been right at all of late, though, as his Panthers have lost two disappointing road games in a row at Va. Tech and Ga. Tech to close out the regular season. The junior forward’s slash line over those 69 minutes of play has revealed a disgusting 3-17 (0-7 3pt)/ 11pts/4 reb/6 ast/5 TO’s
You read that right. Just 4 rebounds in 69 minutes. He couldn’t have played worse if he was trying to lose. Those may have been two of the worst games in the ACC this season turned in by any starter on any team.
If it sounds like I’m piling on Artis, again…you’d be right. But it’s deserved. And it indicates exactly how crucial he is to this team’s success or failure. If the Baltimore native plays a third game of that ilk, Pitt will finally lose to Syracuse. If he plays the way he normally does against the Orange, expect Pitt to win and make the NCAA tournament.
Too simplistic? Maybe. I suppose the likes of Sheldon Jeter, Michael Young and James Robinson can pick up the slack. They have all had good moments against the Orange this year too.
But if Pitt’s NCAA fate is truly on the line, Artis needs to own the moment. If he doesn’t, the Panthers may not be chasing a “shining one” next week.