Top 25 Teams Clash on Friday Night as #4 Syracuse hosts #10 Florida

The undefeated Syracuse Orangemen (7-0) have gotten off to another hot start for the 2011-12 NCAA Basketball campaign, but will get their biggest test of the season tonight as the high-scoring #10 Florida Gators come to the Carrier Dome for a great Friday night Top 10 match-up between two elite college hoops programs.

Keeping attention on basketball has been a challenge for Syracuse University in recent days, after finding themselves mired in an abuse scandal brought on by former assistant coach Bernie Fine, however the well-rounded and talented Orangemen basketball squad has put off-court issues aside for now, and has had few issues reaching the 7-0 mark to start the season for the 4th consecutive time. Led by head coach Jim Boeheim, one of the greatest college basketball coaches in history, Syracuse seeks to make it 8 wins to start the season with a victory over Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators, but the Orangemen will have to put all of their offensive muster into tonight’s match-up against a Florida team that ranks third in the nation scoring 90.8 points per contest. Although most of that damage has been done against lesser-known opponents early in the season, Florida has shown their ability to hang with the best in the nation this year, ironically evident in their only loss of the season at Ohio State on November 15th. Against a Buckeyes team that just embarrassed Duke this week, the 7 point loss suffered in their second game certainly helps to build confidence in Florida’s chances for success in other road match-ups against top-ranked teams, like the one ahead this evening.

Syracuse is opening the 2011-12 NCAA Basketball campaign with a very favorable draw of 10 straight home games (playing in the NIT Tip-Off in NYC this year should be considered home games for Syracuse), and tonight’s game could be the only real challenge during that stretch for the Orangemen. Blowing out opponents by an average margin of victory of 26.1 points, Syracuse continues to have confidence in its veteran squad, led by senior forward Kris Joseph, who is averaging 14.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. There is a very well-rounded aspect to the Orangemen’s game this year, with plenty of talent all around the court consisting of guards Brandon Triche (11.0 points, 3.6 assists) and Scoop Jardine (7 points, 4.1 assists), inside threats Joseph, C.J. Fair and Fab Melo, and 6th-man F James Southerland (10.6 points, 3.6 boards in just 16.4 minutes/game), which undoubtedly gives Syracuse fans plenty of reason to cheer for as they hope for another strong run into the NCAA tournament this year. Having won two straight meetings against this Florida squad no doubt helps to boost the confidence of the Orangemen coming in to tonight’s contest, with three starters having logged time in the 85-73 win back on Dec. 10, 2009 (Jardine, Joseph and Triche), and with one of the loudest, most raucous home crowds at a packed Carrier Dome backing them up, Syracuse’s talent should shine tonight against Florida.

The Gators on the other hand are looking very well balanced themselves ahead of this match-up, with a number of players capable of providing scoring at will and 6 players hitting double figures in scoring so far this year. Florida thrives on moving the ball, shooting well and attacking the basket on the offensive and defensive glass, ranking 6th in the nation in rebounding, and also an impressive #1 in adjusted offensive efficiency, which means that per possession, they score more points than anyone else in College Hoops (by comparison Syracuse is #4, no slouch by any means). Against the Syracuse 2-3 zone defense, outside shooting will be a key to the Gators’ game plan, hedging their performance on star guards Kenny Boyton (averaging 18.5 points/game), Bradley Beal (17.0 points, an impressive 6.5 rebounds/game) and Erving Walker (13.7 points, 4.3 boards, 5.3 assists). Definitely don’t discount the inside presence of sophomore forward/center Patric Young (10.2 points, 7.7 rebounds/game), Will Yeguete (6.2 points, 6.8 boards), or Erik Murphy (10.0 points, 4 boards), which give Florida a quick all-around offense that moves the ball well, but against a lock-down 2-3 zone like Syracuse, tonight’s game for Florida really does come down to whether they can capitalize from the outside and keep up their torrid scoring pace.

One big area of difference between these two clubs comes on the defensive side of the ball, with Syracuse giving up 8 points less per game than Florida does, ranking first in opponents’ turnover rate, and hounding rebounds inside the paint on both sides of the court. While ‘Cuse is just 56th in overall rebounding (39.4/game), they rank first in offensive boards, and have averaged 9.7 boards/game more than their opponents through 7 games, showing that their inside presence is tough to contend with on the glass. This will be incredibly important for tonight’s game line; if Syracuse can win the battle of the boards (most especially on defense) as Florida tries to space out the Orangemen zone and find open outside shooting, they’ll put themselves in good position to let their steady-paced offense keep ball possession time up, keeping the hot Florida shooters subdued. While Florida is certainly a good rebounding team as well, they have struggled at keeping fouls to a minimum while battling in the paint, something they definitely don’t want to see continue against a Syracuse team that doesn’t go to the line often. With the Gators sending opponents to the free-throw stripe at an alarming 40.7 percent of possessions, they’ll simply have to be more careful around the big Orangemen inside, something that is much easier said than done.

Betting Lines for #4 Syracuse vs. #10 Florida is our featured top online sportsbook for Friday’s top NCAA Basketball match-up, and with a few easy clicks you can check out the betting lines for Syracuse vs. Florida at one of the longest-running online sportsbooks in the world. Tonight’s match-up leans in favor of the home team Orangemen, who pick up -290 odds to win on the money line, while Florida is a +245 underdog away. Against the spread, Syracuse gets just a 6 point edge at -110 odds, while the Gators are the 6 point underdog at the same odds. Betting on total points, the over/under is a fair 148.5 points, banking on the Syracuse zone defense to slow down the Florida offense enough to keep both teams around 70-75 points during the ballgame. Perhaps the best look of the day for sports betting on this game is against the spread, with Syracuse a good option to cover 6 points in a victory. As the team with more veteran leadership, a stingier defense, and the one likely getting more trips to the free-throw line tonight, ‘Cuse could easily pull away at the end on the double-bonus, putting the game just out of reach for Florida.

Our Pick to Win:

This should be one of the best NCAA College Basketball match-ups of the weekend, with two exciting teams in competition albeit with rather different styles. While Florida will seek to run-and-gun, Syracuse should try to steady the tempo of the game with their hounding defense and good ball movement on offense around their talented guards. If Florida can keep a hot hand through the game, pushing the ball to open shooters and spreading the ‘Cuse zone defense out, the Gators could find themselves pulling off an upset that few visiting ranked teams have been able to do on the road against better ranked opponents. ┬áSyracuse on the other looks to make its national mark with a signature win tonight at home. I like their veteran leadership both on the court and on the bench in this match-up, and their ability to lock down opposing offenses while dominating the glass and creating turnovers. As such, we’re taking Syracuse to win an exciting game at home tonight against Florida, with a final score of 77-70.

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