It's a good thing the Atlantic Coast Conference welcomed Pittsburgh and Syracuse from the Big East this season or else the ACC would be looking very mediocre at best with the struggles of usual powers Duke and North Carolina. That the No. 2 Orange are atop the early conference standings is no surprise, but that the No. 22 Panthers are right with them is. Syracuse is a 7-point favorite on NCAA basketball odds for their showdown.
Syracuse (9-4 ATS, 4-6-2 O/U at sportsbooks) got a home scare in its ACC debut, edging rebuilding Miami (Fla.), but the Orange have since beaten Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Boston College each by at least 10 points. Last Saturday that stifling Syracuse zone held the Heels to 45 points, the fewest for North Carolina since Dean Smith's final season in 1996-97 and the fewest ever by a team coached by Roy Williams. That zone is just so difficult to prepare for and Syracuse has held its past five opponents under 60 points (all under the total on NCAA basketball odds). Only two clubs all year have topped 70 against Syracuse. The Orange rank third nationally in defensive field-goal percentage at 36.9.
Senior forward C.J. Fair is an ACC Player of the Year candidate, leading the team in scoring (17.1 ppg) and No. 2 in rebounding (5.8 rpg). Point guard Tyler Ennis is perhaps the best freshman you haven't heard of, averaging 11.6 points, 5.6 assists, 3.2 rebounds and an ACC-best 2.8 steals per game. You could make an argument he's having a better season than Michael Carter-Williams did last year and he's the likely NBA Rookie of the Year in 2014.
The Panthers (5-9 ATS, 9-4 O/U at sportsbooks) finally climbed into the rankings this week and avoided a possible trap game Tuesday with an 81-74 win at Georgia Tech. Pitt also has an ACC Player of the Year candidate in senior forward Lamar Patterson, who leads the team in scoring (17.6 ppg) and assists (4.6 apg) and is second in rebounding (4.8 rpg).
Syracuse will be the first ranked foe of the season for Pitt, whose only loss was 44-43 at Madison Square Garden to a good Cincinnati team. The Panthers did lose sixth man and forward Durand Johnson for the season last weekend to a torn ACL. He was averaging 8.8 points and 3.0 rebounds.
The teams split last year’s two meetings, with the Panthers taking a 65-55 victory at home and the Orange winning 62-59 in the Big East Tournament. Pitt has covered six straight on NCAA basketball odds at Syracuse. It lost its last trip to the Carrier Dome in 2012 but had won the previous five visits there.
Free NCAA basketball Pick: Syracuse -7
Indiana State at Wichita State
Is it possible for No. 5 Wichita State to run the table in the regular season? It certainly looks doable as the Missouri Valley Conference isn't very strong, with the Shockers' toughest conference opponent likely to be Saturday's foe, Indiana State. WSU is an 11.5-point favorites on NCAA basketball odds.
The Sycamores (8-6 ATS, 5-6 O/U at sportsbooks) enter the game having won seven straight -- the school's longest run since 2005-06 -- since a 17-point loss at a good Saint Louis team. Indiana State's other two defeats were by one point each at Belmont and against Tulsa. Larry Bird's alma mater also routed Notre Dame in South Bend when the Irish were ranked. The Sycamores have won each of their last three matchups against ranked foes, but Saturday's matchup will be the school's the highest-ranked opponent since No. 6 Tulsa in 1981.
ISU is a very balanced team with five players averaging double-figure points. The Sycamores are an excellent shooting team too, ranking 21st nationally at 48.7 percent from the field. It's also a small team so ISU needs to shoot well because it ranks 302nd in the country in rebounding at 32.5 per game. The team is 5-0 in league play for the first time since Bird's 1978-79 club.
This Wichita State team (11-3-1, 7-8 O/U at sportsbooks) could be better than the one that lost 72-68 to eventual national champion Louisville in last year's Final Four. Senior forward Cleanthony Early is the star, leading the team in averaging 16.0 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. The Shockers have had only a few close games all season. They did escape an upset bid last Saturday at Missouri State, rallying from a 19-point second-half deficit to win 72-69 in overtime. WSU blew out visiting Bradley 72-50 on Tuesday night.
Last season these teams split. ISU pulled a 68-55 upset of then-No. 15 Wichita State 68-55 in Wichita as a 12-point underdog on NCAA basketball odds. It was the highest-ranked team ISU has ever beaten on the road. The Sycamores have covered six of their past eight in Wichita. In last year's matchup in Terre Haute, WSU won 66-62 as a 3.5-point favorite. Wichita State has won nine of the past 11 meetings overall.
NCAA basketball free pick: Indiana State +11.5