Syracuse (18-11, 9-7 ACC) will meet No. 2 Virginia (27-1, 15-1) on Monday at 7 p.m. at the Carrier Dome. Virginia clinched a share of the ACC title with a 69-57 win over Virgnia Tech on Saturday, and has dropped just one game all season (69-63 against Duke on Jan. 31). Who will win the game? Our panel at The Juice Online weighed in:
Steve Auger: If you’ve ever wondered if the ACC schedule makers have a sense of humor, look no further than Syracuse hosting Virginia 48 hours after getting thumped on the road by the Duke Blue Vitales… I mean, Devils. One thing that won’t be funny for the Orange fans, though, will be the outcome of this one. The Cavaliers currently have a 2-game lead on the Duke for the outright ACC regular season championship with two games to play. A win at the Dome locks that up for the second straight season. Of a more pressing concern to Syracuse is that Virginia plays some serious defense. And for a team that struggles with offensive execution, especially from the point guard spot, that’s not a recipe for success. Rakeem Christmas has been the definition of success this year for Syracuse. Here’s hoping the senior has monster game in what will be his Carrier Dome curtain call. He certainly deserves to go out with a bang given that he’s been this team’s anchor all year long. I just don’t think he’ll get much help from his teammates. Virginia 68, Syracuse 52.
Jim Stechschulte: This one will not be for the faint of heart. Virginia has a stifling defense, allowing the fewest points in the nation. Their defense is accentuated by their slow pace of play, but there is no way to dress up that the Cavaliers permit ACC foes 50 points per game and only 36.1 percent of their field goals. Syracuse does have a couple factors in their favor, however. The entire team should want to play well to send Rakeem Christmas out of the Carrier Dome on a winning note, as well as prove that their performance at Duke on Saturday night was an aberration. It will be close, it will be a defensive grind, and, unfortunately, Virginia will take home a “first team to 45 wins” affair and an ACC regular season title. Virginia 51, Syracuse 47.
Brad Bierman: Victories in the final two games would give the Orange 20 wins for a NCAA record-extending 37th season under Jim Boeheim, but to first shock No. 2 Virginia, perhaps the best cohesive defensive team nationally all season, SU is going to need to shoot the lights out under the Dome’s Teflon roof and score close, if not exceed, its 67 points per game average in ACC play. Can that happen? Sure, especially if Rakeem Christmas has a big Senior Night against UVA’s big men including senior Darion Atkins. However, based on a season’s worth of evidence, the ‘Cuse will come close but fall short of a shortened season-gratifying upset. Virginia 69, Syracuse 64.
Matt Dagostino: Ah, the old Duke on a Saturday, then Virginia on a Monday portion of the schedule… It doesn’t bode well for the Syracuse Orange, who are coming off a disappointing performance against the Blue Devils. After playing Duke tough the first go-round and notching some wins against Louisville and Notre Dame since then, the Orange laid an egg in the rematch with Duke. It was a 19-point loss Saturday, which was the same difference in last year’s SU-Virginia game as the Orange lost 75-56. Tony Bennett’s bunch is just as potent on both sides of the ball this year as last year. A stifling defense leads the way, not a good sign for Syracuse team that is struggling to score while Trevor Cooney goes through his current slump. The guard is just 11-for-42 from the field and 3-for-27 from 3-point land in the last four games. Yikes. Virginia has lost one game this season, a game against Duke they let get away at the end. The Cavaliers allow an average of 49.3 points per game. It will be a tall task to take down the No. 2 team in the land. And it’s a task I don’t envision them completing. Virginia 72, Syracuse 59.