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College Basketball Pick
In this game last year, Syracuse went on a late run to beat the Cardinals 52-51 and extend their record to 26-1. This year, a win would put them at 17-1 and a firm chance at being a Top 5 team once again. However, the Orange lost four players from last year's team and don't have quite as dominant of squad.
They beat San Diego State early in the year, but lost to Temple with both being on neutral courts. Those were their hardest out of conference games which doesn't say much. In the Big East they are 4-0, but have struggled to put away the worst teams on the road. If they had trouble beating Providence on the road, will they be able to handle the No. 1 team in the country away from home?
Louisville had a few big wins earlier in the year and their only loss came to Duke on a neutral court. They blew out Missouri and came away with a three-point win against Kentucky. While they had trouble against Northern Iowa and Illinois State, they still came out on top. In conference play, things have gone much smoother and that includes their road games. Most recently at Connecticut, the Huskies actually had a half time lead until the Cardinals picked it up a gear and outscored UConn by 21 points in the second half.
While Louisville also lost a couple players from last year's squad, they haven't really felt the effects as they had two players in waiting ready to take a bigger role. Russ Smith and Wayne Blackshear are the players in mention. Smith has taken up a more offensive role this year scoring close to 19 points per game. Blackshear isn't quite the scorer, but he's a guy everyone needs on their team, a quick guard-forward combo that can guard multiple positions. In last year's loss at the KFC Yum! Center, those two only played a combined 15 minutes.
When you throw those guys in with the seemingly household college basketball names (after their Final Four run last year) of Peyton Siva, Gorgui Dieng and even Chase Behanan, you can understand why they hold the No. 1 ranking. Dieng missed seven games early in the year which explains some of the Cardinals problems against the mid-majors. Now at full strength, Louisville will try and do what Syracuse was able to do last year, make their way to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Obviously, the Orange aren't going to let Louisville walk all over them. They may have lost a lot of guys from last year's squad, but the improvement of Michael Carter-Williams has been bigger than anyone could have predicted. The second-year man is in talks of being the player of the year with his lofty presence on the court. He's averaging 9.4 assists per game which leads the country. In addition, he's getting 12 points, 4.9 rebounds and a ridiculous 3.2 steals per game. He facilitates while scorers Brandon Triche, C.J. Fair and James Southerland do the rest. Those three all average close to 14 points per game. Even though they don't have a true center in the middle, their size at forward has led them to 43.2 boards per game, good for fourth in the nation.
The Orange zone defense was a problem for Louisville last year and anyone for that matter. The Cardinals managed just 100 points in two games against Syracuse last season. When two Top 6 teams are involved the games are never easy to win, but always fun to watch.
Predicted score - Louisville 72 Syracuse 55
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