Memphis Tigers vs. Syracuse Orange Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Memphis Tigers (10-3 SU, 3-5 ATS) vs. Syracuse Orange (13-1 SU, 6-3 ATS), 7:00 p.m. EST, Wednesday, January 6, 2009, Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y. TV: ESPN2
by Ryno of

Point Spread: Memphis +9/Syracuse -9
Over/Under: 146.5

Syracuse and Memphis are both coming off disappointing losses. Syracuse lost its first game of the season, 82-72 at home to Pittsburgh, while Memphis lost a rivalry game at home to Tennessee, 66-59. The Tigers have played a game since then, earning an easy 93-52 win over Houston Baptist on Sunday, but it’s likely the Tigers are still recovering from their disappointing loss and would like to make up for it with a big win at Syracuse on Wednesday.

After a great era with John Calipari, the new Memphis team with new head coach Josh Pastner is a much different team. The Tigers have yet to prove they are a very good team and even a contender in Conference USA. They nearly knocked off No. 1 Kansas early in the season, losing by just two points on the road, but they lost by a point to UMass and lost to Tennessee. It’s too difficult to even pick out what their best win is this season because they haven’t beaten anyone at all.

Syracuse had arguably the best first two months of the season of any team, starting off undefeated with wins over California, North Carolina, Cornell, Florida and Seton Hall. All of those wins other than the Cornell win came away from home. But the New Year did not start off well, as the Orange lost to Pitt on Saturday.

Syracuse small forward Wesley Johnson has been one of the best players in college basketball this season, averaging 17.1 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, and shooting 57.9 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc. Plenty of solid players surround him, as Brandon Triche, Kris Joseph, Arinze Onuaku, Rick Jackson, Andy Rautins and Scoop Jardine all are averaging between 8.6 points and 10.6 points per game. Rautins, Johnson, Triche and Mookie Jones are all shooting over 40 percent from 3-point range.

Against Syracuse’s patented 3-2 zone, Memphis will have to knock down outside jumpers to win the game. That is not something the Tigers did well enough against Tennessee, shooting 9-for-27 from beyond the arc. They were a tad bit better against Houston Baptist at 10-for-26. Pitt shot a little better than that in its win over Syracuse, going 10-for-24. But the Panthers really attacked the rim and got to the free throw line 36 times, making 26 of them. The Orange also shot just 1-for-13 from 3-point range in the loss.

Memphis’s biggest strength is its ability to force turnovers, as the Tigers are forcing 19.3 per game while turning the ball over only 12.2 times per game themselves. They also defend well, holding opponents to 39 percent shooting overall and 29.2 percent from beyond the arc. Syracuse is also forcing a lot of turnovers with 18.8 per game but the Orange are turning the ball over 15.9 times per game. They are shooting very well from 3-point range at 39.3 percent while holding opponents to 29.8 percent from deep and 36.9 percent overall. They are shooting an incredible 53.7 percent overall from the field, which leads the nation.

Memphis is 12-4-1 ATS in its last 17 games as an underdog but 0-4 ATS in its last four games overall. Syracuse is 10-3 ATS in its last 13 home games, 16-5 ATS in its last 21 games as a favorite, and 12-4 ATS in its last 16 games as a home favorite. Syracuse won this matchup last season at Memphis, 72-65. And keep in mind that this game is at Syracuse instead of at Memphis, and Syracuse seems to be a better team this season while Memphis is not nearly as strong as it was last season.

Ryno’s Pick: Memphis has not won any games against quality teams yet this season but the Tigers have shown the ability to hang with anybody, losing narrowly to both Kansas and Tennessee. But Syracuse has proven to be an elite team, earning wins over many top teams away from home. And the Orange are coming off their first loss of the season, a loss they want to avenge. Syracuse has the talent to do whatever it wants, and what it wants to do is to take out its frustration over the Pitt loss on Memphis. This is not a good time to bet against Syracuse at home. Take Syracuse -9.