It's been a long time since you could point to a day on a calendar and say you were 100% sure that was the day the Syracuse Orange basketball season would end. This is the rate year you can do so and while we're not there yet, we're getting close.
The final home game of the season takes place tonight when the Orange (18-11) host the No. 2 Virginia Cavaliers (27-1) in the Carrier Dome. That makes it Senior Day and that also makes it the final time Rakeem Christmas was suit up in front of the Orange faithful. He's sure to get a rousing send-off.
The game will tip at 7:00 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN. Sean McDonough and Shane Battier are on the call. The game will also be available on ESPN3.
Virginia presents a huge challenge to the Orange. They come into the game ranked No. 1 in Division I in scoring defense (50.0) and No. 2 in field goal percentage defense (.352). The Cavaliers have outscored opponents by 16.0 PPG and are in the midst of an eight-game winning streak.
Syracuse leads the series against Virginia, 3-2, but the Cavs won the only meeting between the two last season, 75-56.
Syracuse is attempting to reach the 20-win plateau for the 18th-consecutive year and the Orange have made that possibility extremely tough on themselves. It will require a win over the one-loss Cavaliers and then a win over NC State on the road to finish the year. SU has been up and down in recent weeks, beating Louisville and Notre Dame while losing to Pitt and Duke. It's unlikely that they'll get the win tonight, but, what a way to cement Rak's legacy if they could.
Let's see what the TNIAAM folks think will happen...
Virginia 64 - Syracuse 60
I'd love to see Syracuse send off Rakeem Christmas with a huge upset in his final home game, but I just don't see it -- especially not after Saturday's disaster. Christmas will test Virginia's interior D just the same, but Orange shooters are just too likely to be stifled. The Hoos play the type of defense we're supposed to be playing, and it'll show at the Carrier Dome. We're sorry this couldn't have ended better, Rakeem. You deserve a home finale more fitting of your excellent career.
Syracuse 60 - Virginia 58
Everyone will be rooting hard for Rakeem Christmas to go out on top in his final home game. Have to think the crowd will be pretty charged up and I am hoping it can propel the Orange to a feel-good victory.
Syracuse 62 - Virginia 59
The Cavaliers might be the best team Syracuse has faced this season. By all means, they should win tonight. But, being both senior night for Rak and the last big game a postseason-banned SU team will play this season, this one will mean more to the Orange. Maybe that doesn't matter, but I think it does. For one last time, Christmas sends Syracuse fans home happy with a dominant performance, while also keeping hope alive for a 20-win season.
Virginia 63 - Syracuse 52
We always want to believe our teams will somehow muster the will to win, or whatever cliche you want to throw out there for a big game. But more often than not, the best team wins, regardless of how much the fans or the inferior team's players want to win. The fans will try to will it to happen, and the 2014-15 squad has shown it will fight to the very last second, regardless of the postseason ban, but it just won't be enough. This game reminds me of Gerry McNamara's final game in the Dome against Villanova, and even a record-setting crowd couldn't overcome the No. 4 Wildcats on Senior Day. Virginia's defense is just too tough, and the Orange seem worn out from the brutal schedule and lack of depth. Playing against a team that makes you fight and claw for every point is not a good matchup when you're beaten down like this Cuse team is. They'll be in it for a while, but UVA pulls away in the second half behind cold shooting by the Orange.
Virginia 59 - Syracuse 55
It's tough to ask a team to rebound after a tough loss to face another top-5 team. Syracuse is woefully thin and at times appears to be running on fumes. However, the emotion of the final home game in the career of Rakeem Christmas will help propel the Orange tonight. You can say a lot of things about this Syracuse season, but you know this team is going to play hard and battle. I just don't think there is enough offense to carry the Orange to a win against a strong Virginia squad.
Virginia 61 - Syracuse 56
Virginia isn't at full strength, but remember, neither is Syracuse. Tony Bennett's team is still very good, and I fear for what the pack line defense is going to do to an ice cold Syracuse backcourt, but I do expect this one to remain close. Rakeem Christmas' last game at the Dome should be a very emotional affair and I expect a fired up crowd. Unfortunately, unless Trevor Cooney gets back on track, or Mike Gbinije gives a superhuman effort like he did against Duke a few weeks ago, I don't think the Orange have enough firepower to overcome the Hoos' nasty defense.
Virginia 62 - Syracuse 57
How I would love to see Rakeem Christmas sail off into the sunset with a legacy-cementing win over the No. 2 team in the nation in front of a packed Carrier Dome on Senior Day. I would love it so. But this season just isn't built for those kinds of happy endings. Syracuse can run with the Cavs for a while but they're not built to beat them. Virginia's too methodical and SU's offense is too unpredictable. Syracuse looked pretty worn down by the season the other night against Duke. The home crowd might give them juice but I can't imagine it'll be enough.
Now it's your turn...