With three games remaining on the regular season schedule, the Syracuse Orange are facing one of their toughest tasks of the season on Saturday as they travel to Virginia to take on the Cavaliers.
The fourth-ranked Orange, 26-2 (12-2), are in second place in the ACC, behind only the 12th-ranked Cavaliers, 22-5 (14-1). If they want to have a chance at the regular season conference title, this is a must-win game. The win won’t come easy, though, as the Cavaliers are on an 11-game winning streak and they have won 14 straight at home.
The Orange have had their struggles on offense of late, so they need to get things to turn around. C.J. Fair and Tyler Ennis put up 17 points and 20 points respectively against Maryland Monday on 48 percent shooting, but the rest of the team shot 7-25. In their last six games, Virginia has given up just 49 points per game to their opponents. They are the number one scoring defense in the country, giving up just 55.3 points per game, so expect a low scoring defensive battle, as the Orange are seventh in that category. The Cavaliers are also ninth in field goal percentage defense, so this won’t be an easy game for the Orange to get out of their struggles.
Like the Orange, the Cavaliers aren’t the best offensive team, but they have too pretty good players in sophomore Malcolm Brogdon, the teams leading scorer, and senior Joe Harris. The two combine for 23.9 points per game and are the two best three-point shooters on a team that shoots pretty well from beyond the arc (36.8 percent). Look for the Orange to extend the zone in order to make them attack the basket because of this and the Cavaliers’ poor free-throw percentage (65.8).
The Pick: This is going to be a very tough game to win for the Orange, especially since their offense has been playing so poorly. I think it will be close for the Orange as it always is, but they will need a big effort from Trevor Cooney, who has made just eight of his last 33 three-point attempts. If there is any slight weakness in this very good Virginia defense, it is their three-point field goal defense as they allow opponents to shoot 33 percent from outside, so they need him to get going. The Orange will also need to be assertive on the glass, as the Cavaliers have the best rebounding margin in the ACC, out rebounding opponents by 6.8 boards per game. I think the Cavaliers win and clinch the ACC regular season title, 58-53.
Where: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA
When: 4:00 p.m. ET