Every win counts as teams are jockeying for position at the end of the NCAA Basketball regular season and that goes no different for the 18th ranked Louisville Cardinals (22-8). The Cardinals are faced with the unenviable task of facing the number 2 team in the nation, the Syracuse Orange (29-1).
Tip-off is scheduled for for 4 pm ET at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York.
NCAA basketball odds have the Orange as a 9 point favorite ad the total is 133.5.
Except for a disappointing loss to Notre Dame at the end of January, the Syracuse Orange have passed all of the other 29 tests and find themselves on top of the Big East Conference, with just Louisville remaining on their schedule. The Orange could lose this game by 20 points and still be a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.
This is unlikely to happen as Syracuse wants to finish off the regular season with a statement as one of the dominant teams in the nation. A top 20 team with a good coach such as Louisville is a good team to keep Syracuse at the high playing level that they're accustomed to.
Beating the champs
Syracuse is coming off of a 71-69 victory over the Connecticut Huskies in Gampel Pavilion. The Orange overall were 0-4 at this venue, but on this day they were not to be denied. The Orange led by 14 at halftime but ittook a Fab Melo dunk with 31 seconds left in the game to defeat the Huskies, a team that they've beaten twice this season.
Kris Joseph led the Orange with 21 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals. Syracuse secured the regular season Big East Title and this was a good lead-in game as they face Rick Pitino and company on Saturday.
Fair on a tear
Syracuse is led by senior forward Kris Joseph (14.2 points, 5 rebounds, 1.4 assists) but a good team needs an alternate player to step up and raise their game when these games become more important and for my money that man is forward C.J. Fair.
Fair did less scoring and a lot of the dirty work against Connecticut as he had 6 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks, 1 assist, and 1 steal, but prior to this game, Fair averaged 15.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2 steals in his previous 4 contests.
Rebounding is one of Syracuse's weaknesses but along with Fab Melo and Kris Joseph, Fair is consistent on the boards and I look at him as the wild card so to speak. He averages 9.2 points and 5.6 rebounds on the season but if Syracuse get's anything more out of him, they're a very dangerous team. Look for Fair to continue to play well in the big games.
The Louisville Cardinals will have to bounce back from a bad loss to the South Florida Bulls and have their 'bats' ready, looking to swing for the fences as they face the 2nd ranked team in the nation in Syracuse's building.
The Cardinals possess a potent defense which allows just 62.1 points per game and ranks 5th in the nation, holding their opponents to a mere 37.8% shooting from the field! This is definitely not an automatic win for Syracuse, which is a team that hasn't lost a game at home all season.
Finding the answer to defeating a team like Syracuse will start with guard/forward Kyle Kuric. Kuric had about the worst game that a player could have in a February 23rd loss to Cincinnati where he went 0 of 11 from the field. Kuric has since bounced back in his last 2 games averaging 15.5 points and shooting over 50% from the field and 40% from 3 point range.
The Cardinals need Kuric to remain consistent offensively as there's no pure go to guy on this team. They're a strong rebounding team (38.5 rebounds per game) and rely heavily on their defense. Look for Kuric to be the main focus of the offense.
I'm sorry folks, we're no allowed to use profane language at SBR so this is the best expletive that I could use to describe the recent play of the 6 foot 11 center Gorgui Dieng. Dieng is usually a major obstruction in the middle for the 18th ranked Cardinals at 9.6 points, 9 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks per game.
Dieng has picked a poor time to get into a funk. In his last 2 games, he's averaging 4 points and 5 rebounds on 3 of 10 shooting. He's still been a ball swiper at 2.5 blocks per game but Louisville need's Gorgui Dieng to bring his "A game" against the Syracuse Orange. This is perhaps a player that the 2nd ranked team in the nation might not have an answer for if he's playing at his best.
Does Syracuse remain undefeated at home after this game?
Look for Syracuse to come up with the victory as they've been able to overcome all types of competition this season but Louisville proposes a tough defense and will be hyped up for this game. Kyle Kuric and Gorgui Dieng should both play well and look for the Cardinals to keep this game close and take the +9 as part of your NCAA basketball picks.
Saturday Big East Pick: Louisville +9
Be sure to check out John Ryan's pick on the UNC vs. Duke game, should be a good one.