(1) Syracuse vs. (16) NC-Asheville: East Region
Syracuse 31-2, 17-1 Big East (Regular-season Conference Champions; At large)
UNC-Asheville 24-9, 16-2 Big South (Regular-season and Conference Tourney Champions)
Time: 3:10 p.m. Thursday
Location: Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Winner will face: (8) Kansas State or (9) Southern Mississippi, Saturday
Syracuse No. 2 AP; No. 2 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
Line: Syracuse -16 (O/U 145½)
Players to Watch
Syracuse: F Kris Joseph, 6-7 Sr. (13.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.4 spg); G Scoop Jardine, 6-2 Sr. (8.3 ppg, 4.7 apg, 1.4 spg); G Dion Waiters, 6-4 So. (12.6 ppg, 2.6 apg, 1.9 spg). Waiters, who was named Big East Sixth Man of the Year, scored 28 points and hit 7-of-10 3s in the Orange’s 71-68 Big East semifinal loss to Cincinnati. He also had four assists, two rebounds, two steals and a block in the contest.
UNC-Asheville: G J.P. Primm, 6-1 Sr. (15.3 ppg, 4.2 apg, 1.9 spg); G Matt Dickey, 6-1 Sr. (16.5 ppg, 3.6 apg, 1.5 spg); F Jeremy Atkinson, 6-4 Jr. (11.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 54.1% FG). Atkinson had an outstanding all-around game in the Bulldogs’ Big South championship game 80-64 win over VMI with 18 points (on 7-of-11 shooting), six assists and five rebounds.
Why Each Team Dangerous
Syracuse: The Orange have arguably the most explosive offense in the country – and much of it comes their defense. Syracuse averages 9.6 steals per game and turns most of those into easy baskets. They shoot 46.5 percent from the field (best in the Big East) thanks largely to its opportune defense. The Orange have the deepest talent base in the country and they’re incredibly balanced with seven players averaging 6.6 points and another three who contribute regularly.
UNC-Asheville: Asheville has one of the better – and most balanced offenses – in the country. The Bulldogs average 81.2 points (fifth-best in the country) and shoot 48.4 percent from the field. Five different Bulldogs average double figures. They shot 35.4 percent from the 3-point line and 76.2 percent from the foul line (12th-best nationally). UNCA averages 16.6 assists per game and has an outstanding 1.24-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Why Each Team is Vulnerable
Syracuse: The Orange need Jardine to come out of his funk (eight points in his last three games) for the Orange to be a national-title contender. Rebounding and toughness could be issues down the road, but honestly, they’re not at all vulnerable in this game.
UNC-Asheville: UNCA is average on the boards and average defensively. Its biggest problem in this game, however, is its style. The Bulldogs’ pace will play right into the hands of Syracuse, which will go on several big runs with its defense leading to offense. Asheville was just 8-7 in the non-conference, including a recent 19-point loss at Ohio in the BracketBuster. A 19-point loss to Western Carolina should also be concerning.
The Bottom Line: Unless Boeheim calls off the dogs early, 16 points isn’t nearly a big enough spread.
The Pick: Syracuse 98, UNC-Asheville 68
Greg Against the Spread This Season: 198-148-6 (Through Sunday, March 11)