After an exciting weekend of college hoops action, including a couple of near upsets on Sunday with Virginia and Notre Dame narrowly escaping road defeats, it is time to begin another week of college basketball action. Monday night features only one ACC game, with Syracuse traveling on the road to #15 North Carolina. Let’s break down the action and see what to expect down in Chapel Hill.
Syracuse (14-6, 5-2, RPI: 69) Vs. #15 North Carolina (16-4, 6-1, RPI: 11), 7:00 PM ET, ESPN
Their Last Game
Rakeem Christmas once again led the Orange, scoring 23 points for the ‘Cuse. However, their late surge was not enough to defeat Miami (FL), who continue to play great basketball under Jim Larranaga. The Orange fell to the Hurricanes 66-62.
Miami defeats Syracuse 66-62. Rakeem Christmas led the Orange with 23 points. #OrangeNation
— Syracuse Basketball (@syracusebball) January 24, 2015
The Tar Heels led comfortably in this one for most of the game, but Florida State freshman guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes had his coming out party, scoring 35 points to nearly lead the ‘Noles all the way back to victory. UNC survived however, winning the game 78-74.
Players To Watch
G Michael Gbinije, Syracuse
Michael Gbinije is clearly the Orange’s third option offensively, behind Rakeem Christmas and Trevor Cooney. While he isn’t flashy, Gbinije still provides solid production, as he averages 10.7 points per game on 47% shooting. He has played an average of 33 minutes per game so far this season, but has eclipsed the 40 minute mark in each of his last five games. He’s as reliable as they come for Syracuse, and provides a productive third scoring punch for the team when he plays well.
F J.P. Tokoto, North Carolina
While Tokoto may not lead the Tar Heels in every statistical category, he is the one player on North Carolina’s team that does a little bit of everything well. He is averaging 9.1 points per game on 44% shooting, while also averaging 5.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists. The ability to change the game on so many different levels is what makes Tokoto so vital to the Carolina team, and we may see him make a game changing play, or two, in the game on Monday night.
— GoHeelsTV (@GoHeelsTV) January 24, 2015
The Game And Prediction
Syracuse has yet to find a really good win on their schedule this season. Miami (FL), whose RPI currently stands at 38, would have been the best win on the Orange’s tournament resume, but the Hurricanes escaped, leaving Jim Boeheim’s club still searching for a season-defining win. Enter the Tar Heels, a top 15 team that continues to improve and gain confidence as the season progresses. A win here by the Orange in Chapel Hill would not only be an upset, but could put Syracuse back into the Big Dance conversation as the month of January winds down. While Rakeem Christmas and Trevor Cooney have been very good at times for Syracuse, Michael Gbinije could be the difference maker that the Orange desparately need, as they often find themselves offensively challenged late in ballgames when Cooney and Christmas are heavily defended. If the Orange want to win this game Monday night, they need solid production out of their entire rotation, not just Rakeem Christmas and Trevor Cooney. As for North Carolina, Marcus Paige and company continue to play well in conference play, but have developed the disturbing tendency of letting teams hang around late, before ultimately closing them out. Although the Tar Heels are an -11 point home favorite on Monday night, I expect Syracuse to play well, and if North Carolina lets them hang around, this could be the night they finally get upset. For what it’s worth, I’ll take Boeheim’s club in a surprising road upset, to get their first meaningful win of the 2014-2015 campaign.
Syracuse 63 North Carolina 59