Thursday, January 14, 2010

Syracuse stays hot, UNC continues to falter

There aren't too many nights during the college basketball season where I get to enjoy my two favorite teams on the court. While I didn't get to watch Syracuse roll Rutgers, I unfortunately caught a glimpse of the North Carolina Tar Heels committing 26 turnovers in their loss to Clemson, tied for the most since Roy Williams became head coach.

These two teams have gone in different directions since the 24th-ranked Orange beat the fourth-ranked Heels in the championship game of the Coaches v. Cancer Classic at Madison Square Garden. Syracuse has lost just once while the Tar Heels have dropped four games, including three of their four matchups against ranked teams.

While Syracuse is ranked in the top five and is making a strong case for a top seed in the NCAA tournament, North Carolina will be lucky to remain in the top 25, especially if they can't end their three-game losing streak against ranked teams with a win Saturday against #18 Georgia Tech.

An important trend to notice here is depth: Syracuse has it, while UNC doesn't. Seven Syracuse players average over 20 minutes played, while only four Tar Heels hit the 20-minute mark on a nightly basis.

Syracuse also possesses the balance that North Carolina lacks. Scoop Jardine is seventh in scoring for the Orange at 8.6 points per game, just 1.7 points behind second-leading scorer Andy Rautins. The top seven players in Jim Boeheim's rotation could arguably start for 95 percent of teams in the nation.

On the flip side, UNC is proving how difficult it is to replace multiple NBA-caliber players after losing Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Danny Green and Wayne Ellington. The Heels have just two reliable scorers in Deon Thompson (15.8 PPG) and Ed Davis (15.5 PPG), who also are the only returning players who averaged more than 15 minutes per game for UNC last season. Maybe that explains their 1-5 record away from Chapel Hill.

The Orange lost Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris from last year's squad, but that pales in comparison to what Carolina lost. Flynn is the only NBA talent out of the three, and Brandon Triche and Jardine have done a great job in his stead. Syracuse's 2-3 zone is as good as always, which makes the Orange a tough out when the calendar turns to March.

UNC may have won it all last season but out of the two teams, it's Syracuse who has the best chance at cutting down the nets in 2010. They are way too talented this year to be satisfied with anything less than an Elite 8 appearance. UNC should be ecstatic if they even make the Sweet 16 in what amounts to a down year by the program's standards. This year, it's all about the 'Cuse!

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