While many predicted that the Syracuse at Virginia men’s basketball game on March 1 would be a pivotal matchup, few had the notion that it could decide the ACC regular-season title. Syracuse, which has been in the national spotlight for much of the season, will travel down to Charlottesville today to play in what might become the most important game for the Orange down the stretch
Over the past two weeks, it would be an understatement to declare that the Orange has struggled. The five-game span has provided the Orange with itsfirst two losses, as well as a number of close calls. During the stretch, the Orange has only scored sixty points once, and that came in a loss to no. 5 Duke on the road. Syracuse relied on last minute scoring in their three wins against Pittsburgh, North Carolina State, and Maryland – having fought off a furious comeback from the Terrapins earlier in the week.
The problem is that the road gets no easier for the Orange on Saturday. The Cavaliers are 15-1 in the ACC, and currently sit in first place. Syracuse, at 13-2, sits in second place. A win for Virginia could all but clinch the conference for the first time since 2007, in which they shared the honor with UNC. Virginia started the season ranked 24th, and bounced around in the polls. Currently, they sit at no.12, and with a win against Syracuse, could make their way into the Top 10. It certainly will not be easy against the Cavaliers, who boast the nation’s best scoring defense (54.7 per game).
Guard Malcolm Brogdon is the leading scorer for the Cavaliers. The sophomore is scoring over a dozen points per game. He has scored in double figures in 16 straight contests, and is a big reason why the Cavaliers are on a 12 game winning streak. Syracuse will really need to keep an eye on senior guard Joe Harris, too. Harris is averaging 11.5 points per game and is shooting nearly 43 percent from behind the arc. His superb three-point shooting could spell doom for the Orange, especially if he gets hot.
For Syracuse to come out on top, the bench will need to start contributing points. The roster has certainly been banged up over the course of ACC play (Jerami Grant’s back, Baye Moussa Keita’s knee), but the points will need to come from somewhere. Over the Orange’s first 25 games, the team averaged 70 points per game. Over the last three, however, Syracuse has scored only 58.7 per game, amid a cold streak from Trevor Cooney and poor decision making from C.J. Fair. Syracuse will need to find a way to beat Virginia’s stifling defense, and hope that the leader in the ACC has trouble with the terrific zone defense en-route to a huge road win. Otherwise, Syracuse will finish the season looking up at Virginia, who will have won its first outright ACC regular season title since 1981.
Prediction: Virginia 53, Syracuse 47
Posted by: Jason Weingold