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Syracuse

vs.

Virginia

College Basketball Pick

1/23/16

Two teams that have been at the top of the ACC standings in recent years are struggling to find any kind of consistency in the early conference season. Virginia is undefeated at home, but lost its first three ACC games on the road, all of them surprising losses to lesser competition. That was also the case earlier in the year when the Cavaliers fell at George Washington.

Syracuse doesn't exactly have the same issue, but the Orange once again look like a middle-of-the-pack squad, much like last year's 18-win group. They've had some good wins -- most recently over Duke -- but losses to St. John's and Clemson have been disappointing, especially the one against Clemson at home. In fact, the Orange lost their first four games of ACC play before finally dismantling Boston College and Wake Forest in back-to-back games.

This one expects to be a defensive contest with the Syracuse zone going against the defensive mentality of Virginia. Of course, playing at home, the Cavaliers get the edge.

To beat the Syracuse zone, you need either good shooters, or a smart offensive game plan. One thing Virginia has done in recent years is run an efficient offense, despite its low-scoring tendencies. That starts with veteran guards Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes as well as the bigger Anthony Gill. These guys have plenty of familiarity playing together, but they are missing a true scorer at the moment like what Justin Anderson did for them in past seasons.

In last year's meeting, Gill was the zone breaker as he dropped 17 points to go with nine rebounds. Perrantes and Brogdon hit some shots, but Virginia attacked the inside of the zone and Gill and Mike Tobey capitalized on the road. That'll likely be the case again as Gill, Brogdon and Perrantes are the only three Virginia players averaging more than eight points per game.

On the other end, the Orange are led by a couple experienced seniors in Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney. The main problem with this team is that depth is almost non-existent as they have five guys averaging at least 30 minutes per game, which not many college teams can say. 

When these teams met last year, Gbinije and Cooney were held in check (22 points, 3-of-14 from deep) and that's how Virginia will win this game as well. There's nothing extraordinary about this 'Cuse team, which is a main reason why they're struggling again. Cooney is always a threat from deep, but this team relies too much on the long ball to be successful. If Cooney, Gbinije or Malachi Richardson aren't hitting their shots, they don't have a good enough presence in the paint to win games on a cold night. When one of those guys struggles, that's enough to knock this team off.

And the issue with that is the Virginia defense, which continues to play some of the best ball defense in the country. The Cavaliers are giving up 61.2 points per game and held the Orange to 47 points in last year's game.

Syracuse was impressive at Duke on Monday, but the Blue Devils have problems of their own as well as injuries. Duke chucked up 37 threes in that game, something Virginia won't do here.

This will be a much different test for the Orange than that Duke game as Virginia plays differently on both ends. The Cavaliers haven't lost at home and should control this one in an expected low-scoring affair.

Virginia 71 Syracuse 59

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