The Syracuse Orange have been “interesting” this season. At one point in the season, they looked to have put it together offensively for the first time in what seemed like years but still lost to Notre Dame in a game where both teams scored in the 90s.
They ended up losing the next game to Virginia Tech but then ripped off five wins in a row before the wheels came off.
On Jan. 25, this team was 13-7 overall and 6-3 in league play yet somehow finished the season winning just four of 11 games and enters the ACC Tournament at 16-13 overall and 10-10 in league play.
Most of their problem has been defensive, as the Orange’ 132nd ranking in adjusted defensive efficiency is their worst season in the Kenpom era. Strangely enough, their offensive efficiency ranking is the highest this season since 2011-12.
Meanwhile, North Carolina is currently riding its hottest streak of the season, having won four of their last five games, including a thorough beating of Virginia Tech last night.
Brandon Robinson continues to prove that when he is healthy, he is one of the deadliest shooters in the ACC as he drilled five triples last night. The fact that this UNC team won last night, and won big, is surprising considering Cole Anthony did not have a good game.
Christian Keeling was temporarily lost to what looked to be a very nasty ankle injury, but he did return last night. Keep your eyes peeled for updates on his status throughout the day.
Keeling had averaged 11.6 points per game in his last 10 games while shooting 50% from behind the arc and 94% from the stripe. His loss could be impactful if that ankle blew up overnight.
These two teams met for their first and only meeting of the season, and UNC whooped the Orange 92-79 in New York. Both teams were effective offensively in that game as the Heels averaged an astounding 1.31 points per possession, while Syracuse put up a very respectable 1.13 PPP.
It should be noted that Keeling was an integral part of that game, scoring 18 points on just 7-11 shooting.
North Carolina is a 2.5-point favorite in this one, with the over/under set at 148.5.
UNC is bad away, but good halfway
The story of the North Carolina Tar Heels this season is incredible. Their lack of success in unprecedented, yet they still have a legitimate opportunity to make the NCAA Tournament.
On the road this year, the Tar Heels are 3-9 straight up, but in neutral court games, they are 4-1 SU. Of course, they are an awful 11-9 SU as the favorite and 14-18 against the spread, but as illustrated above, this is not the same Carolina team that we saw in December and January.
They are 4-1 ATS in their last five games, and the total has gone over in 4 of their last five games after a season that saw them go 15-16-1 in the o/u.
Of course, for every point, there is a counterpoint. North Carolina is the worst team in the ACC ATS as the favorite at just 6-14 and has underperformed the spread by an averaged of -6.0 point per game.
Now, many of those games happened in the middle of the season, so it may not be wise to throw four units on the Tar Heels to cover.
The Orange are talented but are out of sorts
The trends for the Orange in this game aren’t great on the surface. Syracuse is 0-2 straight up in neutral site games and 5-7 straight up as the dog. However, they are 7-5 against the spread as the underdog and have outperformed the spread by +3.3 points per game as the underdog.
They are also less offensively challenged this season than in seasons past, ranking 23rd in adjusted defensive efficiency and going over in 20 of 31 games overall and 11 of 13 games away from the Carrier Dome.
Pound the over
I am certain you already arrived at the point before I got here. There are going to be a bunch of points in this game as North Carolina plays volleyball on the offensive glass (Syracuse ranks 329th in offensive rebound percentage allowed), but then fails to defend on the other as they fall in the 21st percentile in defensive points per possession on the season.
If you are set on playing the spread, recency bias tells me to take the Tar Heels to cover the 2.5. They just clobbered the Orange two weeks ago and are playing their best basketball of the season while Syracuse has hit the skids.
I would stress that the presence of Keeling matters in this game. If he is said to be a “go,” I would be much more confident in the pick.