Virginia, Syracuse Battling For ACC Supremacy As Tournament Nears

virginia jeff whiteWith just three games to go in the regular season, the No. 12 Virginia Cavaliers suddenly find themselves atop the Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball standings.

The Cavaliers have won their last 11 games straight up at 7-3-1 against the spread, improving to 23-5 straight up and 14-9-1 against the spread on the season.

Meanwhile, the No. 4 Syracuse Orange have lost two of their last three, including a 62-59 overtime loss to the Boston College Eagles (+13.5 away). That leaves Syracuse at 13-2 in conference play, one game behind Virginia (14-1).

The Cavaliers will try to hold onto that lead Wednesday night when they welcome the Miami Hurricanes (14-13 straight up, 11-11 against the spread) to John Paul Jones Arena in a game that’s live on NESN at 7 p.m. ET.

Virginia has opened as an 11-point favorite against the Canes, who are coming off Saturday’s big 69-42 win over Boston College (+6 away). Miami is now 3-1 straight up and against the spread in its last four games of what has otherwise been a down season for the defending ACC champions.

Not that Miami’s downfall wasn’t expected. After winning their first conference title and reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000, the Hurricanes lost six of their top seven scorers — including Shane Larkin (22.6 PER), who was drafted No. 18 overall by the Atlanta Hawks. That leaves senior guard Rion Brown as the only key holdover from Miami’s championship team.

But Miami head coach Jim Larranaga has managed to piece together a competitive team around Brown (22.0 PER), who now leads the Canes in scoring at 17.3 points per 40 minutes. Senior guard Garrius Adams (14.1 PER) is back after redshirting last season with a knee injury, and senior forward Donnavan Kirk (16.6 PER) has returned from a two-year exile at DePaul after starting his college career in Coral Gables. Junior college transfer James Kelly (19.6 PER) also has been a revelation at forward with 14.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per 40 minutes. Kelly was suspended indefinitely Feb. 19, however, for violating team rules.

Miami has played well enough to sit at No. 71 overall (No. 133 offense, No. 54 defense) on Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency charts going into Tuesday’s action, but there’s still a gaping chasm between the Canes and the No. 6-ranked Cavaliers (No. 43 offense, No. 4 defense). Virginia is a highly undervalued commodity on the college basketball betting market. The Cavaliers are 25-1 to win March Madness, though, well behind Syracuse at 15-2 and the No. 6 Duke Blue Devils at 8-1.

Wednesday’s matchup still won’t be a guaranteed payday for the Cavaliers. After clearing the conference table at home last year, Virginia is 6-5 against the spread at home this season, while the Canes are 7-4 against the spread on the road. Also, the Cavaliers are 5-4 against the spread as double-digit favorites, while Miami is 3-0 against the spread as an underdog of more than seven points. And, as Boston College proved against Syracuse, there are no gimmies in the ACC.

Photo via Facebook/Virginia Cavaliers

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