GAME NOTES: The two top teams in the ACC will collide at John Paul Jones Arena on Saturday afternoon, as the fourth-ranked Syracuse Orange come calling on the 12th-ranked Virginia Cavaliers.
Tony Bennett's Cavaliers have been the real surprise in the ACC this season, quietly going about their business and sitting atop the conference standings with just two games left on the docket. With a win here, Virginia will capture its sixth ACC regular-season crown and its second No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament. The Cavaliers enter this game with a ton of momentum, having won 12 straight games following Wednesday's 65-40 rout of Miami-Florida.
Jim Boeheim's Orange have made the ACC their home in quick fashion. Syracuse, which sat atop both the conference standings and the national rankings for a few weeks, now sits in second place in the ACC at 13-2. The team was able to distance itself from its only two losses on the season with Monday's hard- fought 57-55 road win at Maryland.
Syracuse has won three of the four all-time meetings with Virginia, although these teams haven't met since the 2008-09 campaign.
The Orange held a 51-39 lead over the Terrapins with under six minutes to play but had to hold off a tremendous run by Maryland down the stretch to get back into the win column. Syracuse, which shot just 40 percent from the floor in the win, did get 20 points from freshman Tyler Ennis. Senior C.J. Fair just missed a double-double with 17 points and nine rebounds for the Orange, who held the hometown Terps to just 35 percent shooting and forced 18 turnovers.
Defensive pressure is nothing new for Syracuse, which yields just 58.5 ppg (7th nationally), while boasting of one of the nation's best turnover margins (+4.9). While the scoring output is just a modest 68.8 ppg, the team possesses a solid inside/out game, with a deep scoring pool. Fair was picked as the ACC Preseason Player of the Year and has played well, averaging 16.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. He gets help up front by fellow forward Jerami Grant (12.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg). The backcourt tandem of youngsters Ennis and Tyler Cooney is tough to control. Cooney is second on the team in scoring at 12.8 ppg, thanks in large part to his .403 efficiency from behind the arc (79-of-196). Ennis can fill up the basket as well (12.0 ppg), but also is the team's top distributor (second in the ACC at 5.6 apg).
There aren't many teams better defensively than Syracuse, but the team in Charlottesville is one of them. The Cavaliers lead the nation in scoring defense at a mere 54.7 ppg allowed, while ranking eighth in field-goal percentage defense (.382). The team also enjoys an inflated +6.8 rebounding margin. Much like Syracuse, the offensive numbers for Virginia are not awe- inspiring, although 65.9 ppg has been more than enough to get the job done. Virginia is fueled by its guard play, as Malcolm Brogdon (12.4 ppg) and Joe Harris (11.5 ppg) headline the offensive attack. Brogdon has scored in double figures in all 16 ACC games this year. Harris, who has 57 3-pointers on the season, ranks second in school history with 248 career treys.
The Cavaliers once again displayed stifling defensive play, as Miami had no chance this week. Virginia held the Hurricanes to a meager .263 shooting performance and scoreless from behind the arc (0-of-12). Meanwhile, the Cavs delivered on 9-of-16 from long range in the lopsided win. London Perrantes hit four of those 3-pointers and posted a career-high 15 points. Brogdon also finished with 15 points, while Harris tacked on 11 in the win.
This is a huge game for both teams. While Virginia has excelled time and time again, playing under the biggest of spotlights is nothing new for the Orange, who will find a way to grind out a win here and make things very interesting heading into the last week of action.
Game Date and Time