Syracuse Orange vs. West Virginia Mountaineers Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Syracuse Orange (16-1 SU, 9-3 ATS) vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (13-2 SU, 6-8 ATS), 12:00 p.m. EST, Saturday, January 16, 2009, WVU Coliseum, Morgantown, W.V. TV: ESPN
by Ryno of

Point Spread: Syracuse +4/West Virginia -4
Over/Under: 142.5

A heavyweight battle takes place in college basketball early Saturday afternoon in Morgantown, as the West Virginia Mountaineers host the Syracuse Orange. The Orange and Mountaineers are both ranked in the top 10 and vying for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and a Big East title.

Syracuse has lost one game this season, an 82-72 home loss to Pitt. The Orange started off the season strong in their non-conference schedule with wins over California, North Carolina, Cornell and Florida. After the loss to Pitt, Syracuse has won three straight over Memphis, South Florida and Rutgers, each by 16 or 17 points.

In the 81-65 win at Rutgers on Wednesday, five Syracuse players scored in double figures. Andy Rautins led the way with an almost triple-double of 23 points, eight rebounds and nine assists. Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche each scored 12 points, and Wesley Johnson and Mookie Jones each had 11. Arinze Onuaku had an underwhelming eight points and six rebounds. Johnson’s 11 points in 39 minutes was his lowest points-per-minute performance of the season, but he did grab 10 rebounds. Syracuse shot 48 percent from the field and 9-for-22 on 3-pointers.

West Virginia is still one of the top teams in the Big East but has had a rocky last few weeks. After starting the season 7-0, the Mountaineers needed a layup from Da’Sean Butler with 1.2 seconds left to win the game, 80-78. After a 10-point win over Ole Miss, they needed overtime to win at Seton Hall. Next, the Mountaineers needed a miraculous buzzer-beating jumper from Butler to defeat Marquette at home by a point, 63-62. Since then, the Mountaineers have lost two of their last four games, both on the road, to Purdue and Notre Dame, with wins over Rutgers and South Florida sprinkled in.

In their last game, the Mountaineers won 69-50 at South Florida on Wednesday. Devin Ebanks led the way with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Truck Bryant had 15 points, and Butler had 12 points and nine rebounds. The Mountaineers shot just 3-for-17 from 3-point range but they were able to win the game with defense. They held South Florida to 33 percent shooting from the field and 1-for-17 from beyond the arc, and they won the rebounding and turnovers battles.

This will be an interesting matchup between two excellent college basketball teams. West Virginia doesn’t usually play any real big men so it will have to figure out a way to stop the powerful Onuaku and Rick Jackson down low. But at the other end, Onuaku and Jackson will have to defend Butler, Ebanks and Kevin Jones on the perimeter. Those are the players that should be the most effective in this game for their respective teams.

West Virginia scores most of its points in the paint with the athleticism and length of Butler, Ebanks and Jones. The Mountaineers are out-rebounding opponents by 8.5 boards per game. When they get double-teamed down low, they kick it out for open 3-point looks, where they shooting 36.7 percent from the perimeter.

Syracuse has one of the toughest zone defenses in college basketball. The Orange are forcing 18.5 turnovers per game and holding opponents to 37.1 percent shooting from the field and 30 percent on 3-pointers. Syracuse also likes to get easy shots on fast breaks and runs a disciplined offense in the half-court. The Orange are shooting a ridiculous 53.8 percent from the field and 39.9 percent from beyond the arc.

Syracuse is 4-0 ATS in its last four road games and 20-6 ATS in its last 26 games overall. The Mountaineers are 1-4 ATS in their last five games following an ATS win. The over is 16-5 in Syracuse’s last 21 games following an ATS win, 6-2 in its last eight road games, and 12-5 in its last 17 games overall. The under is 4-0 in the Mountaineers’ last four games following an ATS win. The home team is 5-0 in the last five games between these teams and the under is 4-1 in the last five. Syracuse is 4-1 ATS in its last five games against West Virginia.

Ryno’s Pick: Syracuse has dominated most of its competition this season. If it weren’t for a weak home performance against a very good Pitt team, the Orange could still be undefeated right now. West Virginia has gotten lucky with some clutch last-second shots and could easily have four or five losses right now. West Virginia has certainly been much better at home than on the road this season, but Syracuse has had no problem playing away from home. Onuaku and Jackson will dominate down low and open things up for Johnson and Rautins on the perimeter, HOWEVER, the Mountaineers are king of the hill Saturday morning and cover the spread.