Matchups between Syracuse and Pittsburgh are usually between teams among the best in the country as well as the Big East.
This one, however, pits the best team in the nation against the worst in the conference Monday night at the Carrier Dome.The top-ranked Orange look to establish their best start in school history and end an eight-game regular-season losing streak against the Panthers, who have lost six straight and remain the only winless team in Big East play.Coach Jim Boeheim is one victory shy of tying Adolph Rupp for fourth place all-time in Division I with 876. His club has matched the 19-0 start of the 1999-2000 team and will likely be favored by double digits.Pittsburgh (11-7, 0-5), however, has won eight of its last nine meetings with the Orange, and five in a row at Syracuse (19-0, 6-0)."Pitt's a good team," Boeheim said. "I don't care what their record is. They'll come in here and play well."The Orange were ranked fifth and the Panthers 10th in the preseason."We're not used to this," Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. "Call it what you will, obviously the losses are more than we ever had."Syracuse is leading the Big East in field-goal percentage at 48.7 percent while Pittsburgh owns the second-worst percentage defensively at 43.9. The Panthers were in the top five in the conference in that category each of the last three seasons, with their worst mark at 40.7 in that span.Pittsburgh has handed Syracuse its first loss in each of the two previous seasons. The Orange's 18-0 start last season ended with a 74-66 road defeat while a 13-0 start to 2009-10 was followed by an 82-72 home loss to the Panthers.Big East preseason player of the year Ashton Gibbs had 24 points and eight rebounds in his last visit to the Carrier Dome two seasons ago. Gibbs broke out of a slump with a career-high 29 points in Saturday's 62-57 loss at No. 25 Marquette.The Panthers led by five at halftime before they were doomed by 10 second-half turnovers."We were right there with Marquette," Gibbs said. "They're one of the best teams in the Big East. Now we can't turn the ball over, we have to rebound and knock down shots."Pitt is trying to avoid losing seven straight for the first time since Feb. 3-23, 1996.Syracuse, meanwhile, cruised to Saturday's 78-55 home victory over Providence. Kris Joseph scored 13 points and reserve Dion Waiters added 12 as the Orange forced 22 turnovers and limited the Friars to 35.1 percent shooting."We get better and better every game," Waiters said. "We just continue to try and work hard and take what teams give us."Syracuse forces a Big East-leading 18.6 turnovers per game while Pitt is last at 10.6. Waiters has 44 steals, including 10 over his last three contests.His improvement in averaging 12.9 points on 52.7 percent shooting after marks of 6.6 and 41.1 last season as a freshman is a big reason why the Orange remain one of three unbeaten teams in Division I along with No. 4 Baylor and No. 15 Murray State.