East Region NCAA Tournament Picks: Top Seed Syracuse Faces North Carolina-Asheville

2012 NCAA Tournament
Round of 64 – East Region
Thursday, 3/15/12, 3:10 p.m. Eastern, TV: truTV
#1 Syracuse Orange (31-2, 17-1 Big East) vs. #16 North Carolina-Asheville Bulldogs (24-9, 16-2 Big South)
CONSOL Energy Center – Pittsburgh, PA
Opening Line: Syracuse -17
Current Line: Syracuse -15
Opening Total: 144
Current Total: 147
Odds Courtesy of Bookmaker

Syracuse vs. North Carolina-Asheville NCAA Tournament Betting Preview
Senior Scoop Jardine will look to lead the Orange who will be without sophomore center Fab Melo on Thursday.

The top-seeded Syracuse Orange saw their national championship hopes take a hit on Tuesday when it was announced that sophomore Fab Melo would be ineligible for the NCAA tournament due to an academic issue.  The Orange (31-2, 17-1 Big East) went 2-1 without Melo earlier in the season and will try to overcome his loss when they meet the 16th-seeded North Carolina-Asheville Bulldogs (24-9, 16-2 Big South) in their second-round East Region matchup on Thursday.

Melo was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year after averaging 7.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game.  He was the leading rebounder on a Syracuse team that has struggled on the boards all season and served as the 7-foot anchor in the team’s vaunted 2-3 zone defense.  Another sophomore Baye Keita or freshman Rakeem Christmas will likely take Melo’s starting spot in the middle, although neither player averaged as many as 12 minutes per game during the regular season.

The Orange’s incredible depth will likely be tested right away by the Bulldogs, who won their first game in the Big Dance last year before losing to top seed Pittsburgh in the next round, 74-51.  North Carolina-Asheville is riding a five-game winning streak, outrebounding each of the team’s opponents during that stretch.

The Bulldogs are coming off an 80-64 rout of VMI in the Big South tournament title game on March 3 with all five starters scoring in double figures, led by freshman forward Jeremy Atkinson with 18 points.  They covered all three games of the Big South tourney and went 7-1 against the spread overall this season.

Syracuse (-15, O/U 147) lost to Cincinnati 71-68 last Friday in the semifinals of the Big East tournament, ending an 11-game winning streak.  The Orange saw sophomore guard Dion Waiters rise to the occasion at Madison Square Garden, as he averaged 23 points in the two games they played there last week.  Waiters was also the Big East Sixth Man of the Year after averaging 12.6 points per game off the bench, which was good enough for second on the team behind senior forward Kris Joseph (13.8).

Joseph and fellow senior Scoop Jardine will be counted on to provide leadership on an otherwise young Syracuse team.  Despite winning 11 in a row before losing to the Bearcats, the Orange have struggled to meet the expectations of sportsbooks, failing to cover the spread in six of their past seven games.

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