It's probably not too much hyperbole to say that tonight's game between the Syracuse Orange and the North Carolina Tar Heels could make or break the season. Win and you've proven that you're still capable of making a run towards the NCAA Tournament. Lose and you're basically solidifying what everything thinks already...that this year's squad just doesn't have it.
What's gonna happen? Let's make some depressing predictions...
North Carolina 73 - Syracuse 68
Whether it was at Michigan or at Villanova, Syracuse has at least been competitive in tough road tests this season. Expect that pattern to continue on Monday, when the Orange travel to Chapel Hill for battle with the Tar Heels. Rakeem Christmas will be Rakeem Christmas, but for SU to have a chance at winning, it’ll likely need productive guard play. We’re looking at you, Trevor Cooney, Michael Gbinije, and Kaleb Joseph.
North Carolina 69 - Syracuse 61
I'm not sure that I'm sold on UNC being a top-tier team just yet, but they certainly know how to win basketball games, and have put together at least a decent performance in every game, aside from Dec. 13's 14-point loss to UK, which is fairly understandable. If there is one thing for Syracuse to hang its hat on here, it is that UNC is an average shooting team. Marcus Paige hasn't really taken off this year, and while he leads the team in scoring, he's under 40% from the floor. Of course, if he gets a few open looks from deep, that will be enough to make anyone nervous. I think that this will look like many of Syracuse's other losses - the Orange will play UNC close, but ultimately, the Heels will pull away late and make more plays down the stretch.
North Carolina 71 - Syracuse 64
Marcus Paige should be the main target for Trevor Cooney, Kaleb Joseph and Mike Gbinije on defense. Having said that, those three -- Cooney in particular lately -- have had issues getting out on shooters and getting past screens. Paige hasn't really come on this season like he did late last year, but tell me this game doesn't have that classic "The One Dude Who Can Light It Up Is Lighting It Up" feel to it? Also, I think Carolina has too many bigs to handle Rakeem Christmas -- Kennedy Meeks vs. Christmas should be interesting, though. SU should be relatively close throughout, but the Tar Heels are just a better team right now.
North Carolina 68 - Syracuse 63
Coming off a tough home loss and heading to Chapel Hill the following day is not a recipe for a road win. UNC has been a poor shooting team all year and Syracuse has battled in every game (outside of Clemson) so I'd expect another close game. I know people like to say that college athletes shouldn't get tired, but you have to imagine that fatigue is a factor for Syracuse tonight. For SU to get a key road win, the Orange are going to need someone outside of Christmas to have a huge game.
North Carolina 73 - Syracuse 65
I won't claim that the Miami loss was the beginning of the end of this season, but... well, it's not looking all that great at this point. That should remain the case tonight, unfortunately, when SU heads down to Chapel Hill to face a Tar Heels squad that's looked pretty good lately. Rakeem Christmas may be able to keep things interesting for awhile by controlling the paint, but even then -- UNC is one of the best rebounding teams in the country. That means this could come down to shooting. And if so, I just don't see the Orange being able to beat many teams playing that game. Another loss...
North Carolina 70 - Syracuse 62
Tell me you think Syracuse will win this game with a straight face and I will gladly buy you a beer if they actually win. Look, UNC's not that great, but, you've been given absolutely no reason to believe this Syracuse team can go into an environment like this and win a basketball game. Unfortunately, it's hard not to admit that this year's squad is what it is and there's a ceiling on what it's going to be able to do. Doesn't mean I'm not rooting like hell for them to sort it out and pull off a huge victory, but...you know.
How about you?