Saturday's Top Games
February 21, 2014
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SYRACUSE ORANGE (25-1) at DUKE BLUE DEVILS (21-6)
Sportsbook.ag Line: Duke -5.5
Both coming off disappointing losses, No. 5 Duke and No. 1 Syracuse will meet at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday night in a rematch of a thrilling overtime win for the Orange earlier this month.
Syracuse is coming off its first loss of the season, a 62-59 overtime upset at the hands of lowly 7-19 Boston College. That was the Orange's second consecutive ATS defeat, sending them to 14-8 ATS overall and 8-5 ATS in the ACC. Most impressively, they are 8-1 ATS in non-home games, going a perfect 5-0 ATS in conference road games. Duke enters this game amid a brutal stretch of three games in five days, and it lost the second of those to unranked North Carolina, 74-66 on Thursday night. But the Blue Devils (17-10 ATS overall, 9-5 ATS in ACC) are a perfect 14-0 SU (9-5 ATS) at home this season, where they outscore visitors by 19.3 PPG. When these teams first met on Feb. 1, Duke covered as a 4.5-point underdog at the Carrier Dome in a 91-89 overtime defeat. The Blue Devils made 15 threes to keep them in that game, but foul trouble eventually took its toll as they racked up 10 more fouls than Syracuse (25 to 15) throughout the contest.
The Syracuse offense doesn’t wow anybody, averaging a mere 69.6 PPG (231st in Div. I) on 44.8% shooting (146th in nation) with 12.7 APG (180th in Div. I). But that’s mostly due to its slow pace of play, the same one that holds opposing offenses to 58.3 PPG (7th in nation) on 40.5% shooting and 34.3% threes. The Orange are very active in their 2-3 matchup zone, amassing 8.3 SPG (20th in Div. I) and 5.1 BPG (41st in nation) this season. Though they average only 35.1 RPG (166th in Div. I), they still collect on the majority of their opportunities, outrebounding their foes by 4.0 RPG. Freshman PG Tyler Ennis (11.8 PPG, 5.7 APG, 3.3 RPG) is the key for the Orange on both ends of the floor, pacing the team in assists and playing 34.8 MPG while turning it over only 1.6 times per game. His amazing 3.6 Ast/TO ratio is on pace to eclipse the all-time record for freshmen. He and SG Trevor Cooney (13.3 PPG) both average 2.0 SPG, putting intense pressure on opposing backcourts. They both scored 14 points in the first meeting against Duke while Ennis added nine assists, finding his post players who went to town on a foul-ridden Blue Devils frontcourt. SF C.J. Fair (16.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG) is the team’s top scorer and dropped a career-high 28 points on 12-of-20 shooting in the Feb. 1 meeting. PF Jerami Grant (12.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG), who also torched Duke with a career-best 24 points (7-of-11 FG) and a game-high 12 rebounds, creates a huge matchup problem down low. And don’t forget about C Rakeem Christmas (6.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG), who plays big minutes on this team that doesn't go much deeper than a six or seven-man rotation. Christmas not only drew some crucial fouls on Duke star PF Jabari Parker, but he contributed seven points, 10 rebounds (4 offensive) and six blocks in that Feb. 1 victory.
Duke’s offense puts up 80.6 PPG (22nd in Div. I) on 46.8% shooting (60th in nation) with 14.8 APG (51st in Div. I). They rank fifth nationally in long-range shooting, hitting 40.9% of their threes, but made only 5-of-22 threes (23%) in Thursday's loss to North Carolina. Defensively, Mike Krzyzewski’s squad yields 67.0 PPG (92nd in Div. I) on 44.9% shooting and 30.6% threes. Freshman PF Jabari Parker (19.1 PPG, 8.8 RPG) is Duke’s top scorer and rebounder, and he posted 15 points and nine boards (5 offensive) in 26 minutes before fouling out in the first contest. PF Amile Jefferson (6.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG) also fouled out, leaving Duke with a small roster in overtime that Fair and Grant were able to exploit. However, Jefferson was still able to contribute 14 points (6-of-10 FG), seven rebounds and five assists in that overtime defeat. SF Rodney Hood (16.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG) is the team’s second leading scorer, while PG Quinn Cook (12.1 PPG, 4.8 APG) rounds out the team’s double-digit contributors. Cook had one of his worst games of the season against the Orange, going 2-for-12 from the field and 1-of-8 from three-point range. The team’s savior was SG Rasheed Sulaimon (9.2 PPG, 45% threes), who scored 16 points off the bench, including a buzzer-beating three-pointer to send the game to overtime. SG Tyler Thornton (3.2 PPG, 49% threes) was also critical in the game, hitting three treys on three consecutive possessions late in the second half to help keep the Blue Devils in it.
ARIZONA WILDCATS (24-2) at COLORADO BUFFALOES (20-7)
Sportsbook.ag Line: Arizona -4.5
No. 4 Arizona looks to inch closer to a Pac-12 regular season title when it travels to Boulder on Saturday night to take on a talented Colorado team.
The Wildcats (15-10 ATS overall, 6-7 ATS in Pac-12, 5-3 ATS on road) will look to sweep the season series after a 69-57 win over the Buffaloes (15-11 ATS overall, 7-7 ATS in Pac-12, 10-6 ATS at home) on Jan. 23 in Tucson. SG Nick Johnson led the Wildcats with 18 points in that victory, while Brandon Ashley finished with 15. However, Ashley is currently out for the rest of the season due to a foot injury. SF Xavier Johnson led Colorado with 21 points, while connecting on 4-of-5 three-pointers. The defense of the Wildcats proved to be the difference in the game, holding the Buffaloes to just 39% FG while forcing 16 turnovers. They did a great job of making Colorado play a more one-on-one style of basketball, as the Buffaloes finished with just six assists on its 20 field goals. PG Spencer Dinwiddie is out for the season with a torn ACL for Colorado, and was the guy that could get other Buffaloes shots. Arizona has a 5-3 SU advantage (4-4 ATS) in this series since 2009, but has lost both of its trips to Boulder during this timeframe, including a 71-58 blowout defeat last February.
Arizona ranks 131st in the nation in scoring at 72.8 PPG, but shoots a solid 46.4% FG (69th in Div. I) with 14.8 APG (52dn in nation). The Wildcats are shooting 35 % from the 3-point line, but they do not attempt a lot of them. However, the Arizona defense is what has this team competing for a national title, ranking fifth in the nation in scoring defense (57.7 PPG allowed) and sixth in FG Pct. defense (38.1%). The Wildcats are coming off a 67-63 overtime victory at Utah in its most recent outing on Wednesday. PF Aaron Gordon (11.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG) had one of his toughest games as a college basketball player that night, finishing with three points, three rebounds and five turnovers in 20 minutes of action before fouling out. While he struggled in that game, he is still one of the most athletic power forwards in college basketball, and a big reason why the Arizona ranks 21st in the nation in rebounding (39.1 RPG). Junior SG Nick Johnson (15.8 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.5 APG) has improved as an elite guard in the country, and can be downright devastating in the transition. He has always been a terrific defensive player, but the improvement on the offensive end has been a big reason why the Wildcats are title contenders. However, he is in a major shooting slump over his past five games, making only 27% FG and 2-of-20 threes. Another vital part of Arizona’s team is PG T.J. McConnell (8.0 PPG, 5.4 APG, 4.0 RPG). While his numbers are not off the charts, McConnell has given the Wildcats a true point guard, something they did not have last season. The talented athletes on the floor allow him to play the brand of basketball he is most comfortable with, and he doesn't make many mistakes, as evidenced by his 2.7 Ast/TO ratio. SG Gabe York (6.9 PPG, 40% threes) is the best shooter on the team, and is being counted upon more as a shooter after Brandon Ashley went down with an injury. A knock on Arizona is because it doesn't have an explosive offense, it is hard for them to blow out its opponents. The Wildcats have gotten off to bad starts in their past two road games, and can ill-afford another one against a Colorado team that is finding its groove while adjusting to basketball without Spencer Dinwiddie.
The Buffaloes come into this game playing their best basketball of the season, going 5-1 SU (4-2 ATS) so far this month, defeating Arizona State 61-52 in their most recent game on Wednesday. When Dinwiddie was lost for the season, there were many people that thought the Buffaloes were done for. One player that has performed very well in Dinwiddie’s absence is junior PG Askia Booker (14.6 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3.4 APG). Booker has shown the ability to hit the big shot, as he hit a 30-footer at the buzzer to beat No. 7 Kansas early in the season. Booker has also been on fire this month with 19.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG and 6.7 APG in the six games. While he has been inconsistent from deep this season (31% threes), Booker is the type of guy that can hit three or four long-range tries in a hurry. However, he is at his best when he is slashing and getting to the basket. Teaming him with sophomore PF Josh Scott (14.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG) gives the Buffaloes a talented inside-outside duo. Scott is one of the most improved players in the Pac-12, emerging as a big-time post presence with 11 doubles-doubles, including 13 points and 13 boards in Wednesday's victory. SF Xavier Johnson (12.0 PPG, 6.1 RPG) is another player that can put up a lot of points in a hurry, as his 21 points versus Arizona last month started a run of eight straight games with 11+ points (17.0 PPG). The Buffaloes have been rebounding the ball well this season, ranking 37th in the nation with 38.3 RPG. They also rank 101st in scoring (74.0 PPG) on 44.9% FG (143rd in Div. I). The loss of Dinwiddie has really shown when it comes to assists, where Colorado ranks 208th in the country with 12.4 APG. The Buffaloes easily won the matchup in Boulder last season, and have one of the most underrated crowds in the country. Expect the Coors Events Center to be rocking as the Buffaloes look to potentially punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night.
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