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Virginia vs. Syracuse College Basketball Odds & Picks: Back the Cavs on Road (Saturday, Jan. 1)

Virginia vs. Syracuse College Basketball Odds & Picks: Back the Cavs on Road (Saturday, Jan. 1) article feature image

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Kihei Clark.

  • Virginia travels to the Carrier Dome to take on the Syracuse Orange in an ACC duel.
  • The Cavs are 1-1 in league play and are coming off a loss to Clemson while the Orange have won two straight.
  • Will the Orange get the home victory? Anthony Dabbundo dives into the matchup and offers up his best bet.

Virginia vs. Syracuse Odds

Saturday, Jan. 1
8 p.m. ET
ACC Network
Virginia Odds
Spread Total Moneyline
-115o / -105u
Syracuse Odds
Spread Total Moneyline
-115o / -105u
Odds via DraftKings. Get up-to-the-minute college basketball odds here.

Both Virginia and Syracuse have underperformed preseason expectations in the nonconference portion of the season, and Saturday’s ACC game is a critical one if either team wants to build a quality at-large resumé for the NCAA Tournament.

The Cavaliers and Orange have had opposite issues, though. Virginia’s offense has lacked consistent scoring all year and it totaled just 58 points against Navy, 50 to Clemson, 49 to James Madison and 47 to Houston in nonconference losses. For Syracuse, the defense has fallen apart at various points of the season.

Surprise losses to Georgetown, Colgate and VCU has the Orange down to 162nd in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom, which would be the lowest of the Jim Boeheim era since KenPom began tracking the data in 2002.

Saturday is a matchup of weakness on weakness as the Virginia struggling offense takes on the underachieving Syracuse defense.

Virginia Cavaliers

Virginia and the pack line defense may not be as elite as years past, but the Hoos are still elite at protecting the rim. They rank sixth-best in near proximity field goal percentage allowed and have some positive defensive regression coming from beyond the arc. 

The Virginia defense is known in the past for being elite at preventing teams from getting out in transition and getting second-chance looks, but that hasn’t exactly been the case this season. The Cavs rank just 283rd in potential points allowed off of steals and 240th in potential second-chance points allowed. Virginia as a team is having some growing pains with all of the turnover within the program from last season, but those are two areas you’d expect head coach Tony Bennett to improve them in as the season progresses.

The Hoos rank just 257th in minutes continuity this season. This is a very new team that doesn’t have the elite defense of years past or the consistent scoring of last season to make up for that defense being worse.

Point guard Kihei Clark has developed a lot offensively, but he’s also a defensive nightmare for Syracuse point guard Joe Girard, who has really struggled against Clark in some past meetings, including both last season.

Shooting guard Reece Beekman still isn’t shooting at all but can defend at an elite level. He’s nationally ranked per KenPom in both block and steal rate. The backcourt is the only real returning minutes for this team though. 

Virginia’s perimeter defense has been more unlucky than bad this season, too. They’ve allowed the 11th fewest open 3-point looks on catch and shoot this season and rank 44th against mid-range shots too, two areas where the Orange’s offense likes to live. 

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Syracuse Orange

While Virginia hasn’t played a game since before Christmas, Syracuse has its third game in six days. The Orange steamrolled Brown on Monday night after returning from a brief COVID pause and then struggled in a Wednesday game with Cornell. The same issues persist for Syracuse that existed earlier in the season.

The Orange are very reliant on perimeter shooting and midrange offense for scoring, and when one or two shooters are struggling, they end up without much offense. Despite this, SU is a top-30 offense by almost any metric and has four shooters who project out as 35% or better from beyond the arc. That matches up well with the pack line, and star guard Buddy Boeheim has plenty of positive shooting regression coming. Buddy is shooting just 31% from deep and projects as a 40% shooter on average.

Syracuse’s issues come on defense, where the team allows a ton of open looks from beyond the arc. If your offense and jump shooters are struggling like Virginia, there’s fewer better get-right matchups than the Orange. The Orange rank 203rd in defensive adjusted ShotQuality allowed and allow more catch-and-shoot open 3s than all but one team in the country.

The Orange also don’t really prevent good looks at the rim at all, either, so this could be a good offensive game for the Cavaliers in the Carrier Dome.

Virginia vs. Syracuse Betting Pick

Virginia has had a ton of success against the Syracuse zone in the past, but those games featured a much better shooting group from the Cavaliers. The Hoos’ style as a defense-first, slow-paced team makes them an appetizing underdog in this spot against a bad Syracuse defense that lacks depth and rim protection to frustrate the Virginia offense for long stretches.

This game projects as a tossup game for me, with a slight edge to Syracuse for home-court advantage. But that home-court advantage isn’t enough to warrant a spread of multiple possessions, where the line is currently set.

The Cavaliers will have to be patient, but they don’t turn the ball over much and should get more open looks than usual against a poor iteration of the Syracuse 2-3 zone.

Even against Brown and Cornell, Syracuse badly outperformed the score that the ShotQuality metrics suggested, and both programs should have made more from the perimeter than they did. I think we’ve seen the floor of the Virginia offense already, but I’m not sure we’ve seen the floor of the Syracuse defense.

Back Virginia to bring this game down to the wire.

Pick: Virginia +4

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