The North Carolina Tar Heels look to follow up a big win over the weekend when they visit the Syracuse Orange on Monday night. North Carolina rallied to beat No. 11 Florida State at home on Saturday, giving coach Roy Williams his 900th career victory.
The Tar Heels (15-8) head into the final week of the regular season sitting at 9-5 in the ACC, putting them in a tie with Clemson for fifth in the standings heading into Monday night’s action. They remain just a half-game behind Virginia Tech for third in the league.
Syracuse comes into this contest having dropped two straight on the road, including Saturday’s 84-77 setback at Georgia Tech. The Orange (13-8) are at .500 in ACC play at 7-7 and sit in 10th place in the conference standings.
If you’re betting online on this contest, North Carolina is a 1½-point favorite on the road, with the over/under set at 150½.
Needing More Consistency
The Tar Heels are trending up in both the standings and the prognostications for NCAA March Madness, but looking back at February, they only went 4-3. They’re looking to repeat a win over Syracuse in the previous meeting, 81-75 in Chapel Hill in mid-January.
North Carolina has won 10 of its last 11 meetings with the Orange after that January meeting. Garrison Brooks (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Armando Bacot (15 points, 12 rebounds) notched double-doubles, and the Tar Heels dominated the glass, grabbing 24 offensive rebounds which led to 24 second-chance points.
The size of North Carolina is its biggest advantage. Bacot, a 6-10 sophomore, leads the Tar Heels with 11.2 points per game while averaging 7.4 rebounds per contest. He teams with Brooks, a 6-10 senior forward who is averaging 10.4 points and 7.0 rebounds.
A pair of freshmen have stepped up as well this season, with guard Caleb Love scoring 10.1 points and dishing out a team-high 3.7 assists per game. Fellow freshman Day’Ron Sharpe, a 6-10 big man, is the Tar Heels’ fourth double-figure scorer, averaging 10.0 points along with a team-best 8.0 rebounds.
Packing It In
The interesting part of this matchup is Syracuse is known for its zone defense, which is perfect to pack it in against a much taller team. Unfortunately, with so much height on the Tar Heels roster, the Orange have to guard against interior passing between the big men to get open shots.
Offensively, junior guard Buddy Boeheim had a good game in the first meeting, scoring 18 points, but he was shut out in the second half of the contest. Boeheim is second on the team in scoring, averaging 15.3 points per game and hitting 44 3-pointers on the season (2.4 per game).
Junior forward Alan Griffin leads Syracuse in point production, averaging 15.5 points and connecting on 47 3-pointers. He also averages 6.6 rebounds per game and leads the Orange with 1.6 blocks and 1.5 steals per game.
A big key in this one will be the play of sophomore forward Quincy Guerrier, the team’s leading rebounder at 9.1 per contest. Guerrier notched a double-double in the first meeting with 23 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks, but he also fouled out of the contest.
Syracuse needs to tighten up its defense against a North Carolina team that hasn’t been very consistent in putting points on the board. In February alone, the Tar Heels had games of just 50 and 48 points in losses to Clemson and Virginia, so it can be done.
Surging Into March
The Tar Heels made college basketball news with Williams’ milestone victory, but it was also significant for the opponent and how they came back from a first-half deficit. North Carolina has the talent to make a run in both the ACC tournament and in the NCAAs, but it just needs more consistency on both ends of the floor.
That being said, Syracuse is also known for playing well in March. Jim Boeheim knows what it takes to get some tough wins in tournament play, and he’s going to have his team ready for this one as well, trying to get better seeding for next week’s conference tournament.
I expect this one to be close all the way, as do the oddsmakers. In the end, though, I like Syracuse to pull the upset. When making your college basketball picks, take the 1½ points and go with the Orange.