Some intrigue on the second night of college basketball's 2019-20 season: the reigning national champions will open their campaign on the road. That rarely happens, and in fact hasn't happened in more than 40 years. But due to the birth of the ACC Network coinciding with that conference growing from 18 to 20 league games, there are intra-league contests peppered throughout the first week of the season.
So Virginia will play at Syracuse in the most intriguing game Wednesday night has to offer. The Orange will debut on the heels of a 20-14 season that ended in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Baylor. It's a nice twist, if not a little weird, to have intra-conference games immediately. If anything, it provides a little more eclecticism to the first week of the season than we'd otherwise get.
Virginia: Easy: UVA is coming off its first national title in school history and as a result lost more players to one NBA Draft than ever before (three: DeAndre Hunter, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy). Two starters from last season are back: Mamadi Diakite and Kihei Clark. But Tony Bennett told me this offseason this challenge will be unlike any he's ever had, not just because of the title "defense," if you will, but having to make up for so much offense. Having UVA go against the 2-3 zone immediately is a tasty subplot, for sure. Look for Braxton Key to attempt to exploit it. He can shoot from the midrange and might become the Hoos' most important player int his one.
Syracuse: The Orange have never finished below .500 under Jim Boeheim (40-plus years!) and won't again this season, but how good will SU be? No one's really sure. Mega minutes-getters Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett, as is point guard Frank Howard. Elijah Hughes is now the alpha, but will Buddy Boeheim pop in his sophomore season? Look for Boeheim or sophomore Jalen Carey to be sources of offense on Wednesday, or at least try to. This sets up as one of the more mysterious Cuse teams of the past decade, at least.
Date: Wednesday | Time: 9 p.m. ET
Location: Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY
TV: ACC Network | Live stream: Watch ESPN
Game prediction, picks
Expect a low-scoring affair. Syracuse barely had a top-80 offense last season and doesn't seem to be more prone to score this season. Plus, obviously, Virginia plays at the slowest pace in the sport and figures to try and grind this game. I'd take the under, in addition to riding with what still looks clearly to be the better team. UVA favored on the road is no surprise. The game will probably be close, but Tony Bennett's program should extend its winning streak from April into November. Pick: Virginia (-4.5)