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Unbeaten No. 2 Syracuse hosts UNC on Saturday
By: Robert Livingston - StatFox
Published: 1/11/2014  at  4:19:00 AM
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Carrier Dome - Syracuse, NY
Tip-off: Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET
Line: Syracuse -7.5, Total: 139

Giant killer North Carolina has a chance to beat its third top-five team of the year when it goes to the Carrier Dome Saturday to face No. 2 Syracuse for the first time as conference foes.

The undefeated Orange have jumped out to a 15-0 SU start with two wins against ranked opponents in Baylor and Villanova. As usual, Jim Boeheimís 2-3 defense has been menacing this season, holding teams to 59.3 PPG (12th in Div. I), and forcing 15.9 turnovers per game (23rd in nation) on 9.5 SPG (12th in Div. I). They are 7-4 ATS overall this season, but only 3-3 ATS at home. The Tar Heels have now lost two in a row to weak teams in Wake Forest and Miami, falling to 5-8 ATS when favored. That has been their trend all season, with earlier losses to heavy underdogs Belmont, UAB and Texas. But they have shown a knack for beating some of the countryís best, Michigan State, Louisville and Kentucky, who are all ranked among the nation's top-15 teams. Both MSU and Louisville were double-digit favorites over UNC, which is 7-8 ATS overall and 1-2 ATS on the road. The last time these two teams met was on Nov. 20, 2009, when the unranked Orange stomped then-No. 6 North Carolina 87-71 at Madison Square Garden thanks to a 22-1 run to open the second half.

Can North Carolina pull off another shocking win in the underdog role at Syracuse? For the latest college basketball picks, check out The Platinum Sheet for all the StatFox Experts selections every week throughout the entire 2013-14 season. The StatFox Experts have been rolling in college basketball Best Bets this season with a 61% ATS (143-91-5) mark, including a stellar 66% ATS (111-57) record since Nov. 23. StatFox Zach is leading the way at 64% ATS (30-17-1) on Best Bets this season, including 71% ATS (24-10) since Nov. 22, while StatFox Scott is 62% ATS (28-17) for the season and 69% ATS (20-9) since Dec. 2. StatFox Brian is 62% ATS (29-18-1) for the season and 67% ATS (22-11) since Nov. 26, while StatFox Dave is 59% ATS (27-19-1) for the season and 71% ATS (10-4) since Dec. 18. StatFox Gary is 59% ATS (27-19-2) for the season and 68% ATS (19-9) since Dec. 3.

Though the Tar Heels average 77.7 PPG, they scored only 62.0 PPG on 35% FG and 19% threes (7-of-36) in their back-to-back losses to the Demon Deacons and Hurricanes. Their defense has allowed a pedestrian 68.5 PPG, but has limited opponents to a mere 38.7% FG (25th in nation) and 30.4% threes. Rebounding definitely is not the problem, as UNC averages 42.1 RPG (11th in Div. I) and outrebounded Wake and Miami by a combined 23 boards. Leading the offensive struggles in the past two games is the teamís top scorer, PG Marcus Paige (17.0 PPG, 4.4 APG), who went a combined 5-for-27 from the field (3-of-19 threes) in those two contests, totaling 16 points and six turnovers despite a solid 14 assists. He is a more natural passer than scorer, but has been forced to shoot more often this season (41% FG, 35% threes), though hopefully for head coach Roy Williams, that is less often the case now with SG Leslie McDonald (11.0 PPG, 34% threes) back in the swing of things after missing the start of the season. But after averaging 12.3 PPG on 46% FG in his first four games, he's been ice-cold in the past two with 8.5 PPG on 6-of-25 FG (24%) and 3-of-14 threes. PF James Michael McAdoo (14.4 PPG, 6.5 RPG) is the teamís second-leading scorer, and heís averaging a double-double of 16.0 PPG and 10.0 RPG over the past three contests. C Brice Johnson (11.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG) and freshman PF Kennedy Meeks (7.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG) give him help down low, while swingman J.P. Tokoto (10.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG) can play the forward, but also stretch defenses with his willingness to shoot the three.

While Syracuse is lauded for it's great defense in the 2-3 zone, the offense is also pretty strong, averaging 74.1 PPG on 46.7% FG and 36.0% threes. The key to Syracuseís success this season has been the stellar play of freshman PG Tyler Ennis (11.7 PPG, 5.6 APG) who has taken expert care of the ball with only 1.2 turnovers per game. Heís also a tenacious defender, forcing a team-high 2.6 SPG while sophomore G Trevor Cooney (13.9 PPG) joins him at the top of the zone, forcing 2.1 SPG. Cooney is a deadly three-point shooter, hitting 3.2 per game on a 45.3% clip. Senior PF C.J. Fair (17.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.6 SPG) is Syracuseís top scorer, providing consistent production on the block and knocking down mid-range jumpers (46% FG). Ultra-athletic sophomore SF Jerami Grant (12.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG) paces the team in rebounding, where he also receives help from role players PF Rakeem Christmas (5.6 PPG, 3.9 RPG) and C DaJuan Coleman (4.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG), who could be critical against North Carolinaís strong rebounders.

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