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VIRGINIA CAVALIERS (27-1) at SYRACUSE ORANGE (18-11)
No. 2 Virginia looks to inch closer to an ACC regular-season title when it visits Syracuse on Monday night.
The Cavaliers have lost just once SU all season, including eight straight wins, but they are only 2-7-1 ATS in the past 10 games. However, this remains the best defensive team in the nation (50.1 PPG allowed), as Virginia has not given up more than 60 points in seven straight contests. The Orange have alternated SU wins and losses in each of their past nine contests, and are a woeful 3-9-1 ATS in their past 13 games. In the past three contests, Syracuse has averaged a paltry 60.0 PPG on 37.5percent FG. In Saturday's 73-54 blowout loss at Duke, the team shot a season-low 30.6percent from the floor. The Cavaliers are a perfect 12-0 SU (9-3 ATS) away from home this season, while the Orange are 13-4 SU, but 4-9 ATS, in the Carrier Dome. These schools are meeting for just the second time since Syracuse joined the ACC last season. In that first matchup on March 1, 2014, Virginia rolled to a 75-56 home win when it outshot its opponent 50percent FG to 36percent FG and held a commanding 39-29 rebounding advantage. The Cavaliers are a whopping 11-1 ATS when facing a team with a win percentage between 60percent and 80percent after 15+ games in the past two seasons, holding these clubs to just 56.9 PPG. But the Orange benefit from the trend that excellent defensive road teams (40percent FG allowed or better) facing a good defense (40percent FG to 42.5percent FG allowed) after 15+ games, after two straight games of 50percent FG on offense, are a woeful 7-30 ATS (19percent) in the past five seasons. There are no new injuries for either school in this matchup.
Virginia leads the nation in scoring defense (50.9 PPG) and ranks second in shooting defense (35.2percent FG), which helps the team post a +8.2 RPG margin (9th in NCAA). The Cavaliers don't rack up many steals (5.3 SPG, 286th in nation), but they do block 4.6 shots per game (54th in NCAA). Although Virginia scores only 66.1 PPG (201st in nation), this is due to a deliberately slow-paced offense that limits turnovers to 8.7 per game (2nd-fewest in NCAA) and rarely wastes a possession with strong shooting percentages of 46.3percent FG (62nd in nation) and 36.0percent threes (99th in NCAA). Although injured SF Justin Anderson (13.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 48percent FG, 48percent threes, 80percent FT) is regarded as the team's best player, Virginia has plenty of other stars. SG Malcolm Brogdon (13.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG) is the team's leading scorer who lit up Syracuse for a game-high 19 points (5-of-12 FG, 8-of-8 FT) with five assists and five rebounds last March. PF Anthony Gill (11.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG) is the club's best rebounder and shoots 58percent from the floor. He has scored at least 11 points in five straight games, where he's averaged 14.2 PPG and 6.6 RPG. C Mike Tobey (7.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG) shoots 51percent FG and 75percent FT, and his 6-foot-11, 253-pound frame could give the Orange big men trouble again. Tobey produced 11 points (5-of-9 FG) and eight rebounds in just 23 minutes versus Syracuse last season. PG London Perrantes (6.1 PPG, 4.5 APG) shoots poorly from the floor (35percent FG), but he is a heady point guard who rarely makes mistakes. He commits one turnover for every 23.0 minutes on the court, and carries a 3.1 Ast/TO ratio for the season. Last March versus Syracuse, he scored six points (2-of-2 threes) with four rebounds, seven assists and only two turnovers.
Syracuse is an average offensive team with 68.7 PPG (145th in nation) on 43.5percent FG (179th in NCAA), but shoots horribly from three-point range (30.5percent, 305th in nation) and from the foul line (66.2percent FT, 267th in NCAA). But the club does a great job controlling the flow of the game with a 1.29 Ast/TO ratio (34th in nation) and a +2.1 turnover margin (46th in NCAA). The Orange mostly play a 2-3 zone on defense which helps limit opponents to a mere 63.3 PPG (94th in nation) on 40.3percent FG (69th in NCAA) and 31.2percent threes. They are very active in the zone with 8.3 steals per game (14th in nation) and 5.1 blocks per game (27th in NCAA), and rebound pretty well too with a +2.4 RPG margin (99th in nation). The team's best player all season has been PF Rakeem Christmas (18.1 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 2.5 BPG) who is averaging 18.5 PPG and 9.3 RPG in his past four contests. He scored eight points (4-of-7 FG) with seven rebounds and three blocks (both team highs) in the loss at Virginia last season. SG Trevor Cooney (13.5 PPG, 2.4 APG, 1.8 SPG) is the team's top scorer in the backcourt, as he knocks down 37percent threes. He has been an iron man with 37.3 MPG, and still has more steals (51) than personal fouls (44) this season. Cooney scored 12 points on a subpar 4-of-12 FG (3-of-10 threes) with two steals in last season's loss in Charlottesville. F/G Michael Gbinije (13.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.8 SPG) contributes nicely in all categories, and has played at least 36 minutes in 16 straight games. Gbinije has a nine-game streak of 12+ points, but has made only 11-of-37 shots (29.7percent FG) in his past three contests. He logged 30 minutes off the bench versus the Cavaliers last season, but scored only five points with one rebound and zero assists in that defeat.
Kentucky Basketball: Is an Undefeated 2013-14 Season Completely Unrealistic?
He told a group in NFL Lines Ohio in April. He told Andy Katz after Kentucky's 2012 national title. He addressed it a couple of weeks ago in his we-didn't-get-Andrew Wiggins-but-we're-still-awesome press conference.
Per Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal, he said:
Were chasing perfection. Were chasing greatness. Were chasing things that have never been done in the history of our game.
... Now, Im not sitting there saying, If we lose a game, its not a successful season. No. But youre chasing greatness. Whats wrong with that?
Nothing, Cal. Nothing is wrong with wanting to do something great.
It's quite nice of you to give us something to talk about during the offseason, too. And it's going to be talked about a lot. Because, well, it's Kentucky. It's Calipari. And what he's done is historicyou have to give him that.
This recruiting class that includes six McDonald's All-Americans is the reason an undefeated season is even worth the keystrokes. The Wildcats are going to be good. They have too much talent not to be good. Calipari is too good a coach.
But going undefeated? Is that even a possibility?
Well, to put bluntly, no, it's not.
Since Indiana's perfect season in 1976, it's not just that no one has gone undefeated; no one has even won the national title with one loss.
Hi-res-163779343_crop_exact Andy Lyons/Getty Images
UNLV almost did it. The Runnin' Rebels almost had a perfect season in 1991, and they're the last team to enter the tournament with a perfect record.
You know what was different about that UNLV team and this Kentucky one? Besides the fact that the Rebels relied on upperclassmen, they played in the Big West. Their best competition was Fresno State.
The SEC is hardly murderers' row, but the 'Cats have to play Florida, a top-10 team with at least two seniors in the starting lineup. They have to play Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss, which isn't that daunting of task considering what that team has coming back, but Henderson could get hot and there's a loss.
Kentucky also has to play a Michigan State team in Chicago that will be preseason top five and returns four starters. Calipari has to take his team to the Dean Dome. Louisville comes to town on Dec. 28.
Michael Jordan played with another Hall of Famer and didn't go undefeated. Magic Johnson didn't go undefeated. The Fab Five lost nine games as freshmen. Duke repeated as champs in 1992 after ruining UNLV's perfect season in 1991 and still lost two games. Florida returned its entire starting five from a championship team and lost five games in 2007.
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