Syracuse will receive another stern test as it continues its march towards a likely Big East basketball title when the Orange visits the UConn Huskies tonight. Tip-off is set for 9:00 PM ET at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut.

Sportsbooks opened the NCAA Basketball odds boards with the the Orange favored by 3.5, but that line has already extended to -4.5 and even -5 at some NCAA Basketball betting shops. The total currently sits at 131.5, slightly higher that the 130 listed at opening.

Lets break down this matchup to decide which NCAA Basketball picks are worth taking to the sportsbooks.

Shabazz NapierThe UConn Huskies (17-10 SU, 8-14-1 ATS) are coming off a 73-70 overtime victory over Villanova. Jeremy Lamb scored a career-high 32 points marking the second time this year he’s topped the 30-point plateau. Lamb has also scored at least 20 points on eight occasions this year.

Shabazz Napier, whose 30-foot, 3-pointer at the buzzer beat the Wildcats on Monday, is averaging 12.7 points and 5.8 assists per game. The Huskies have also gotten key contributions from a pair of talented freshman in Ryan Boatright (10.2 ppg) and four-time Big East Rookie of the Week, Andre Drummond (9.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game).

The Syracuse Orange (28-1 SU, 16-12 ATS) had to work harder than usual for their last victory. The Orange rallied from a 13-point deficit to beat South Florida 56-48, but failed to cover as a -14 point favorite. It’s tough to say that a team with 28 wins is ‘struggling’, but that’s been the case lately for Syracuse. In their past three outings, Jim Boeheim’s team has produced just 60.6 points per game and is shooting 39 percent. Those pale in comparison to their season average of 76.1 ppg and 46.2 percent shooting.

First meeting

In their first meeting, Connecticut faded down the stretch in an 85-67 loss to Syracuse. The Orange outscored the Huskies 22-6 over the final six-plus minutes to escape with the win and cover. Jardine had 21 for the winners while Dion Waiters contributed 18 points and C.J. Fair had a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds. UConn was led by Lamb who tallied 18 and Boatright who chipped in with 14 points, five assists and five rebounds.

Scoop JardineWhile Syracuse is already assured of a spot in the NCAA tournament, and a likely No. 1 seed, the Huskies still have some work to do. If UConn can win tonight, it’s likely that the defending national champions will be at the ‘Dance’ as well. On the flip side, the Orange can clinch the Big East regular-season title outright with a ninth straight victory.

Rougher than the rest

Give them credit, as UConn is playing the toughest schedule in the country, according to The RPI Report. The Huskies’ strength of schedule is ranked No. 1 among all 344 Division I teams.

UConn, ranked No. 24 in the RPI ratings (as of Feb. 23), has six victories against teams ranked in the top 50 in the RPI. With tonight’s game against Syracuse, currently ranked No. 1 on the RPI list, the Huskies’ strength of schedule does not figure to drop very far for the remainder of the regular season.

Calhoun benched

The Huskies Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun will miss today’s game and Tuesday’s tilt against Providence, the seventh and eighth games he’s missed due a painful lower back condition. He’s scheduled to undergo a surgical procedure Monday to help alleviate the spinal stenosis that has forced him to take a medical leave of absence. His coaching status will then be evaluated on a day-to-day basis.

Stat sheet

UConn is 12-3 at home this season, 4-3 in BIG EAST home games. 

Syracuse is 15-1 in the Big East while Connecticut is 7-8. The Orange is 8-3 ATS in its last 11 games overall and on the road.

The Huskies have been great fade material of late. UConn is 2-7-1 in its last 10 games overall and 2-6-1 vs. the number against Big East opponents.

Harvey’s Take: My play is on UConn who not only will cover but could spring the outright upset.

Good luck!

Be sure to check out Swingin' Johnson's Hoops picks

Geno's NCAA Baketball Picks


Steven Suarez's NCAA Basketball Picks of the Day