After a two-loss week for the #4 Syracuse Orange, the #12 Virginia Cavaliers have taken a one game lead in basketball’s toughest conference and it means the ACC title will be on the line (Saturday, 4pm ET on ESPN).
With just a handful of games left until the ACC Championship Tournament, a win for either of these teams will go a long way to securing the coveted bye and top seed. Based on the way both teams have been playing lately, this really could be anyone’s game.
What Happened to the Orange?
The preseason #8, Syracuse quickly rode a perfect record into the top five. The team spent the next eight weeks as the second best team in the country. Each week, Syracuse collected more votes from the top team, Arizona. Finally, as the only top conference team with a blemish-free record, the Orange arose to the top of the AP Rankings in week 14 and did so unanimously.
Syracuse was the consensus #1 for two straight weeks. Entering last week, week 17, the Orange remained perfect at 25-0. Of course, being in the ACC, this wasn’t a sure thing. Syracuse faced tough opponents all season and finally, at the backend of a long home stand, the Orange dropped their first game to Boston College.
As it so happened, this was the first of back-to-back games that Syracuse dropped. The second came against Duke, the current sixth best team in the country. With the two-loss week, Syracuse fell in the rankings from the best to the fourth best team.
From a numbers standpoint, the drop isn’t that bad. Syracuse is still the highest ranked ACC team and is still among the best in the country. The issue however is that the two-loss week could be the sign of a bigger problem for the Orange.
Since February 12th, Syracuse has gone 3-2 with a margin of victory in the negative digits. That is because in Syracuse’s three wins, they have managed to emerge victorious by the slimmest of marks. In all, the Orange have actually been outscored in their last five by four points.
Again, that might not seem like a lot especially considering Syracuse has won more games than they have lost in that span. It is though and that is mainly because Syracuse seems to be limping to the finish line.
Before February 12th, Syracuse had won all but one of its games by no fewer than five points. The only game they didn’t win by more than five was an overtime thriller against Duke. Since February 12th however, Syracuse has won none of its games by more than two points.
The struggle comes at the worst possible time considering the ACC title and top seed in the tournament is on the line. If Syracuse is to rebound, they will have to do it soon. While the Orange are struggling, it seems Virginia is headed in the opposite direction. The Cavaliers have won each of their last 12 games and have done so by more than three points all but once.
Doing it with Defense
When the season began, it probably wasn’t anybody’s expectation that Virginia would be in contention for the outright title this late in the season. They aren’t exactly what you first think of when you mention ACC basketball.
But all of that aside, Virginia is in a position to shock the basketball world and they are in that position because of the country’s best defense.
Offensively, the numbers are shockingly bad. This is a team that is ranked 294th in offense out of 345 D-I teams. Additionally, the Cavaliers are 126th in rebounds per game, 135th in assists and 127th in field goal percentage.
But how do you win a basketball game? You score more than your opponent and that is exactly what Virginia has been doing.
The Cavalier defense is the best in the country allowing just 54.7 points per game. This is nearly 10 points less than the average scoring output (65.9) of the team’s offense.
Fortunately for Virginia, the task against Syracuse is not the toughest the team has or will face. The Orange are just barely better on offense, ranking 243rd with 68.8 points per game. Again however, on defense, this is the 7th best team in the country.
Syracuse Orange at Virginia Cavaliers Betting Picks
This will be a defensive standoff and with how Virginia has been playing lately, they have to be favored to pull off the win. Their defense should be good enough and on their home courts, you have to like the chances of this young, underdog team. So despite the ranks, expect Syracuse to continue to fall as the season comes to a close.