Pitt visits No. 2 Syracuse for early ACC supremacy
Jim Boeheim has been a student, basketball player, team captain and coach at Syracuse, beginning in 1962.
As a player, he teamed with Dave Bing to lead Syracuse to the school's second-ever NCAA Tournament berth. As a coach, he's taken his alma mater to nine Big East regular-season championships, five Big East Tournament titles and 28 NCAA Tournament appearances while advancing to three national title games during three different decades, defeating Kansas for the school's only crown in 2003.
Only Duke's Mike Krzyzewski has more career wins than Boeheim, who earned his 880th win two years ago, surpassing North Carolina's Dean Smith for most career wins at one school.
Syracuse, ranked No. 2, is one of three undefeated teams in the country at 17-0.
Here are some numbers that Boeheim isn't so proud of: He's only 4-10 against Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, who faces Boeheim at 4 p.m. Saturday at Carrier Dome in a renewal of their Big East rivalry that shifted to the ACC this season.
“We've had big games with Pitt every year,” Boeheim said. “They were the best team in the Big East, wins and losses, for the last 10 years, and we were second.”
Coincidentally, Pitt and Syracuse — the new kids on the block in the ACC — are the only remaining undefeated teams in conference play with identical 4-0 records.
Duke was picked as ACC preseason favorite by the media. Syracuse was selected No. 2 and Pitt sixth.
“It's early, it's four games,” said Dixon, whose team is 16-1 overall. “We obviously weren't picked to win the league. I don't think Syracuse was. I don't think they anticipated us being at the bottom of the league (but), I don't think they anticipated us being at the top.”
“We knew we were coming from a great league,” Boeheim said. “We both knew that (Pitt and Syracuse). Players know it, coaches know it. Pittsburgh's been tremendous for years. No one should be surprised where they are.”
Asked to describe the Pitt-Syracuse rivalry, Boeheim replied, “Rivalries are when you have good games. You have two good teams and you have good games. That's what happened over the last 10-15 years with Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Every time we play Pittsburgh it's a big game, and it's a big game this year.”
Last season, Syracuse was a surprise Final Four entrant, losing to Michigan in the national semifinals.
This season, Boeheim is coaching yet another team, led by senior C.J. Fair, with the potential to make a deep tournament run.
“We've played good when we had to,” Boeheim said. “When we've been in tough spots, we've played really well, and we've played well down the stretch in games. That's been the difference.”
Coaching — and winning big — at Syracuse gives Boeheim a deeper appreciation for his accomplishments, which include 937 career wins.
“For me, Syracuse was the right fit,” said Boeheim, 69. “I came here as a walk-on. I was an assistant coach here. If coaches find the right fit, they'll stay. More and more coaches are settling in if they get a good situation. Mike Krzyzewski found his place at Duke. Billy Donovan at Florida found the right place for him. Bo Ryan at Wisconsin. Tom Izzo at Michigan State.
“You can still find a good situation that's comfortable for you, and you stay there.”
Is Dixon, now in his 11th season with nearly 300 career wins, that guy at Pitt?
“Absolutely,” Boeheim said. “He's found a great place and built a tremendous program. I see him coaching at Pittsburgh a long time.”
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.
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