Syracuse Orange (12-0 SU, 8-4 ATS) vs. Florida Gators (6-6 SU, 7-5 ATS), 9:00 p.m. EST, Thursday, December 10, 2009, St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, Fla. TV: ESPN
by Ryno of Predictem.com
Point Spread: Syracuse -2/Florida +2
The SEC/Big East Invitational features a pair of undefeated teams ranked in the top 10 that weren’t expected by most to be ranked in the top 10, as Syracuse faces Florida at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. Both teams come into the game at 8-0, so somebody will walk away with their first loss of the season.
No team has even come within 15 points of Syracuse so far this season. At Madison Square Garden, the Orange won easily over California, 95-73. The next day, they shockingly rolled over North Carolina, 87-71, behind strong outside shooting from Andy Rautins and Wesley Johnson and dominant inside play by Arinze Onuaku. Those have been the only real tests for the Orange so far. Their closest game was an 88-73 win over a very solid Cornell team.
Florida has missed the NCAA tournament the last two years, so expectations weren’t as high as normal for the Gators. But they have been very impressive early in the season. They opened eyes with an easy 68-52 win over Florida State, and then defeated Michigan State 77-74 in Atlantic City to really jump onto the national radar. They haven’t had any real tests since then, although the wins over Rutgers and Jacksonville weren’t easy.
Florida has gotten a big boost this season from newcomers Kenny Boynton and Vernon Macklin. Boynton is a freshman point guard who was a McDonald’s All-American out of high school. He is a very fast point guard with great ball-handling skills. He can knock down open 3-pointers, despite only shooting 20.8 percent from beyond the arc so far, and he has a knack for getting to the rim. He leads the Gators in scoring with 13.9 points per game but he is only shooting 37.8 percent from the field. Macklin is a strong, athletic post player who transferred from Georgetown. He gives the Gators some size and length down low and is averaging 11.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.
Erving Walker, who is just as fast and quick as Boynton, joins Boynton in the backcourt. Between the two of them, it’s tough for opposing teams to stay in front of them on the perimeter. Walker is also a very capable outside shooter but is only shooting 31.8 percent from beyond the arc. Alex Tyus and Dan Werner join Macklin in the frontcourt to give the Gators a lot of size and length. Tyus is a banger who doesn’t have a lot of range but he will get the ball around the rim and finish. Werner is a versatile forward who can play near the basket but is especially dangerous from 3-point range, where he is shooting an incredible 51.9 percent. Off the bench, Chandler Parsons is very similar to Werner in that he is a long, versatile forward with the ability to light it up from beyond the arc.
Johnson, a transfer from Iowa State, has quickly emerged for the Orange as one of the best wings in the country. There is nothing this 6-foot-7 forward can’t do. He has already had plenty of highlight reel dunks, he is exceptional from 3-point range at 53.1 percent, he can handle the ball, rebound and score from anywhere on the court. He leads the team in scoring with 17 points per game and rebounding with 7.2 rebounds per game. He is also solid on the defensive end with 2.2 steals and 2.1 blocks per game.
Onuaku is an absolute beast down low, averaging 12.5 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, and shooting nearly 70 percent from the field. His rebounding numbers do need to improve, as does his free throw percentage (40). Rick Jackson gives the Orange more size and strength down low and Kris Joseph brings in more athleticism off the bench. Andy Rautins is one of the best pure shooters in college basketball. He is shooting 51.1 percent from beyond the arc and is scoring 9.9 points per game. It’s not wise to ever leave him open because there is no doubt he will make open shots. Freshman point guard Brandon Triche has been solid with 11.5 points per game and Scoop Jardine is just as good, if not better, off the bench with 8.9 points and 6.0 assists per game.
Ryno’s Pick: Both of these teams are playing very well this season. The game is in Tampa, so Florida will have an advantage with more fans there, but this Syracuse team is tested and experienced so the semi-home environment for the Gators won’t bother Cuse. The Orange really haven’t looked yet like they’ve even been challenged. Florida is undefeated and playing well, but the Gators did struggle in the first half in their last game against Jacksonville. Syracuse’s great zone defense could give the Gators some trouble, as it will force them to make outside jumpers, something they are capable of doing but really haven’t been doing well this season. Unless Werner, Parsons, Boynton and Walker really light it up from 3-point range, the Orange are going to score too many points for Florida to keep up. Take Syracuse -2.
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