Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, February 28, 2014 at 7:00 AM
Nobody in the nation expected Virginia to win the ACC this season. Sure, they were a potential sleeper. But, they were a sleeper in a conference expected to be dominated by Duke, Syracuse, and possibly Pittsburgh…and they were on a list of sleepers that also included talented North Carolina and a few other teams.
Seeing the Cavaliers sitting at 15-1 in league play entering Saturday’s huge showdown with Syracuse is truly one of the biggest surprises in the entire sports world the past few years. That shouldn’t happen! And, with so few games left on the schedule, you can see that the conference championship is largely at stake in that Syracuse/Virginia showdown.
Virginia 15-1 (Syracuse and Maryland left to play)
Syracuse 13-2 (Virginia, Georgia Tech, and Florida State left to play)
Duke 12-4 (Wake Forest and North Carolina left to play)
Duke is locked out because they trail by 3 games in the loss column with only two games left on the schedule for themselves and Virginia. Even though Duke inflicted the only ACC loss this season on Virginia (by 4 points at Cameron Indoor, the equivalent of a virtual tie on a neutral court), the Blue Devils have no shot at putting up a regular season banner.
Virginia will WIN THE ACC if they take out Syracuse Saturday, also earning a #1 seed in the league tournament. Should Syracuse win, we could either have a regular season tie (with the top seed going to the Orange because the heads-up win would break the tie), or a possible outright title for Jim Boeheim’s bunch should Virginia lose to Maryland and Syracuse win out.
It’s odd to see a “game of the year” in the ACC involve neither Duke or North Carolina. And, it’s REALLY odd to see an ACC “game of the year” involve Syracuse who spent so many years in the Big East. But…Saturday’s nationally televised Syracuse/Virginia game is truly for the meaningful marbles…and will provide an early look at how two important postseason entries will play with a championship on the line.
Let’s run the game through our standard indicator information…
Syracuse: #10 in Pomeroy, #14 in Sagarin
Virginia: #4 in Pomeroy, #10 in Sagarin
Even though Syracuse spent much of the season undefeated, and was #1 in the wire service polls as recently as last week, the computers aren’t particularly high on them as a national championship threat. College basketball guru Ken Pomeroy barely has them in the top 10. USA Today computer whiz Jeff Sagarin barely has them in the top 15! That may be a reflection of how disappointing the ACC has been this season. Or, it may be a mistaken underestimation of the true Final Four chances for the Orange. Time will tell on that count. Pomeroy currently has Virginia as a Final Four caliber team. The Cavs did draw a rather fortunate ACC slate in terms of who they had to play twice. But, they are getting results so it’s hard to argue too vehemently with Pomeroy’s assessment. We’ll believe it when we see it in March!
Offensive Rank (Adjusted for Schedule)
There’s a perception in many circles that Syracuse has a horrible offense. That’s largely the result of playing at such a slow pace. If you look at per-possession production, they rank in the top 25 offensively according to Pomeroy (who also adjusts for schedule strength). Virginia isn’t in the top 40.
Defensive Rank (Adjusted for Schedule)
Both teams play great defense, while also playing at a very slow pace. That’s why they hold so many teams to such low scoring totals. And, that’s why Saturday’s meeting could be a real steel cage wrestling match. We have two slow teams who play great defense…and who may have trouble consistently getting good looks.
This is likely to be one of the slowest paced games in college hoops all season. It’s rare to have two teams THIS slow match up against each other across a 350-team sampling. In terms of nuts-and-bolts basketball, we have two virtual clone teams here. Virginia is Syracuse for the most part…and that style was very well suited to dominate the ACC in a down year. Note that Syracuse and Virginia are a combined 28-3 in league play…which represents 1-2 vs. Duke and 27-1 vs. everyone else (Syracuse was caught napping by Boston College).
Against the Spread
Speaking of getting caught napping, Vegas oddsmakers certainly have been this year with these two teams. They were very slow to accept Virginia as a legitimate powr…leading to a 63% cover rate for the Cavs. Syracuse is at 59% even though it was known early in the season that they were going to be very good once again.
We’ve put this preview up on a Friday because it’s such a big Saturday game. Be sure to build your bankrolls for weekend action Friday Night with top plays from the colleges and the NBA from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK. You can always purchase those right here at the website with your credit card. Additional information is available in the handicapping office at 1-888-777-4155.
We’ll be back with you tomorrow to talk more about Saturday’s card, including the key indicator stats for #7 Louisville and #21 Memphis in another showcase showdown. Then, you can purchase Saturday’s slate to see which marquee matchups made the cut! Sunday we’ll preview Marquette as #8 Villanova as we continue to evaluate national championship contenders in big game previews from now through the start of the tournaments.
The buzz is already starting…it’s time for YOU to get serious about college basketball. Be sure you GET THE MONEY all the way through MARCH MADNESS with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!