Orange Energy Will Leave UNC Feeling a Bit Blue in ACC

Rainman M.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018 2:36 PM UTC

Wednesday, Mar. 7, 2018 2:36 PM UTC

No. 12 North Carolina (22-9) plays Syracuse (20-12) at 9:30 p.m. ET in the second round of the ACC Tournament in the Orange-friendly environment of Brooklyn, New York. The Tar Heels are favored, but can the Orange stay competitive for at least a half?

Wednesday College Basketball: North Carolina vs. SyracuseFree NCAAB Pick: Syracuse +4 1HBest Line Offered: BetOnline

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Syracuse is desperate to achieve a major victory to qualify for the Big Dance. Legendary coach Jim Boeheim had his team energized and motivated from the start in Syracuse's first-round ACC Tournament game against Wake Forest. Normally, the Orange have underperformed away from the Dome, where they were 3-6 ATS during conference play. For instance, last week at Boston College, they stood around on offense, often too scared to contribute, and committed careless turnovers. After Boeheim called out his role players, they responded. Forward Marek Dolezaj scored a career-high 20 points Tuesday. Whereas he didn't attempt a single shot against BC, he attacked the rim aggressively and wasn't afraid to shoot from short range against Wake. In the first 10 minutes, Cuse led Wake 22-7.

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Bettors should expect energy from the Orange, the exact opposite start from when Syracuse slacked early against UNC on Feb. 21 and lost 78-74. Recent trends suggest bettors should expect sluggishness from UNC. Teams that have played the day before have had a first-half betting advantage against those that are better-rested but less recently battle-tested and battle-ready. For instance, in the Big Ten tournament all six teams that had played the day before covered the first half in its following game against the team playing its first tournament game. Of those six teams, four won the 1H ML, including Iowa against eventual champion Michigan, and Rutgers against Purdue.

Syracuse is a 7-point underdog tonight on the college basketball odds board, but with our NCAAB picks it makes more sense to target only the first-half result (Syracuse +4).

Matchup-wise, UNC lacks the interior size and strength from last year. Center Luke Maye is a converted power forward. Syracuse should attack the rim instead of settling for jump shots, like in the beginning of its first game against UNC. Syracuse is an awful jump-shooting team, and misses from distance encouraged UNC's transition offense to push the tempo before Cuse's zone defense could set up. But the Orange can be comfortable on offense against a UNC squad that won't turn them over often, ranking 12th in defensive turnover percentage. One asset evident Tuesday and in the latter stages of the teams' first matchup is the creative playmaking of point guard Frank Howard, who ranks 70th in assist rate. With his signature no-look passes, he can create easy baskets in front of the rim. Syracuse's role players will continue to step up and Cuse will rely less on its guards to score points rather than distribute the ball. The most important player for bettors is Dolezaj. Syracuse is 2-11 SU in conference play when he fails to convert more than two field goals and 5-1 SU when he does.

UNC loves to score inside, relying on two-point scoring more than every other ACC team besides one. Syracuse's interior defense is strongly improved from last season, currently ranking fourth in two-point defense and first in blocks. Cuse ranks first in height, so its defense is longer, which means the opposing offense finds it more difficult to pass the ball in order to create scoring opportunities. This difficulty was apparent in Virginia Tech, the ACC's third-best half-court offense based on proportion of assists per field goals, which mustered 56 points in a Dec. 31 loss at Syracuse, achieving only one assist more than turnovers. Cuse also boasts rim-protector Paschal Chukwu, the 7-footer who ranks ninth in block percentage. UNC ranks 10th in block percentage allowed and is thus vulnerable to Cuse's big men inside.

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