You know it's not an ordinary college basketball season when the biggest game of the regular season in the Atlantic Coast Conference involves neither the North Carolina Tar Heels nor the Duke Blue Devils.
Virginia went out as 4.5 point chalk, and that spread dropped a half-point overnight. SBR's live NCAA basketball odds show a 116 point total holding steady.
The first-ever matchup between the two schools as conference rivals comes with the Cavaliers holding a slim 1-game lead over the Orange at the top of the ACC ranks. Duke and UNC are 3 and 3.5 back in third and fourth respectively.
The Orange have won three of the four previous meetings with Virginia, including the most recent clash a little more than five years ago at the Carrier Dome. Favored by 16 at home, Syracuse needed a big second half to avoid an upset with the 73-70 decision. The Orange outscored the Cavaliers 27-12 at the charity stripe to secure the victory, and that contest never threatened a 158 point total.
Orange Narrowly Avoid 3rd-Straight Setback
After suffering its first two losses of the season a week ago to Boston College and Duke, Syracuse (26-2 straight up, 14-10 against the spread) almost folded Monday at Maryland before holding on for a 57-55 triumph. This time, it was a late non-call in favor of the Orange that helped them avoid a third consecutive loss, as opposed to the way the battle at Duke ended with Jim Boeheim having a meltdown.
While Syracuse did end a 2-game slide on the floor, Monday's narrow win was not enough to cover the 4.5 point spread Orange backers were laying, their 4th-straight loss at the window, two of those away from home. Boeheim's bunch began the ACC schedule with five consecutive road covers.
Syracuse might have to take on the Cavaliers without Jerami Grant who is listed as questionable due to back trouble. The sophomore forward only played 13 minutes and scored four points in the win over Maryland. Grant is one of four players scoring at least 12 points per game for the Orange, and leads the team in rebounding (6.9 rpg).
Cavs Riding 12-Game Win Streak
Virginia (24-5 SU, 16-9 ATS) can wrap up the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament with its 13th-straight win on Saturday, and become one of only two teams to win at least 16 ACC games in a single season in the process (Duke 1999). Tony Bennett's crew will close out the season at Maryland next Sunday with a shot at becoming the first ACC team to win 17.
The current 12-game win streak includes a 9-3 ATS mark, that record increasing to 13-3 going back to the start of the conference schedule. The latest victory came Wednesday with a 65-40 rout of Miami, easily covering the 10.5 point line. Virginia connected on 9-of-16 from beyond the arc while shutting out the Hurricanes from the 3-point line (0-for-12).
Fans and bettors looking for a wide-open offensive affair are likely to be disappointed when they tune into this matchup. The Cavaliers are No. 1 in the country limiting opponents to just 54.7 PPG, and the Orange aren't far behind giving up 58.5 PPG. Those numbers are even lower vs. ACC foes, Virginia allowing 53.1 PPG while Syracuse is allowing 56.3. The teams are a combined 14-29 'under,' with the Orange on a 7-game streak to the low side of totals and Virginia 1-5 O/U its last six.
It's easy to imagine a close game with both teams staying in the low-to-mid 50s. But it's easier to expect the close game half of that scenario more than simply playing the 'under.' I'm adding the Orange and points to my free NCAA basketball picks today.
My pick: Syracuse +4
Season: 45-33-4 (+8.7)