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Virginia Men's Basketball

Syracuse vs Virginia Preview and Storylines

(Getty Images)

The 11th ranked Virginia Cavaliers look to bounce back on Saturday when they host the Syracuse Orange.  Virginia enters with a 2-2 record in ACC play, while Syracuse is 3-1.  It’ll be the first of two regular-season meetings between the teams. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:00 PM Eastern at John Paul Jones Arena, televised on ACC Network.  

About Syracuse

Jim Boeheim,now in his 47th season as Head Coach at Syracuse, had the first sub-.500 season of his career last year.  He has two starters back from that team.  They’re joined by a strong crop of freshmen, four of them in the rotation.  After struggling early on, the Orange have won seven of their last eight.  

Syracuse enters with a 10-5 overall record, 3-1 in conference play.  They already have a pair of ACC road wins over Notre Dame and Louisville.  Their lone conference-loss came to the Pittsburgh team that just beat UVA.  Early season losses to Colgate and Bryant unfortunately weigh down their overall resume, placing them at 142nd in the NCAA’s NET rankings.  

Syracuse Personnel

The guard tandem of freshman Judah Mintz (15.8 PPG) and senior Joseph Girard (16.7 PPG) have combined for over half of the Syracuse points in conference play.  They complement each other well.  The 6-3 Mintz is really good off-the-bounce, creating for himself and others.  He loves to attack the basket, and does not attempt many three-pointers.  Whereas, the 6-1 Girard is a high-volume three-point shooter who’s connecting at a 37% clip on the season.  

Senior center Jesse Edwards (13.9 PPG) has established himself as one of the best big men in the league.  He’s second in the ACC in rebounding and leads the conference in blocked shots.  Sophomore 6-8 forward Benny Williams (8.0 PPG) is a nice versatile player at the four-spot.  And they start off in a big lineup with 6’7 wing Chris Bell (6.7 PPG), a very confident freshman.  

The Orange have a pair of local freshmen coming off the bench.  Guard Justin Taylor (4.4 PPG), a Charlottesville native, has hit 38% from deep. And forward Maliq Brown (3.8 PPG), a former Blue Ridge School star, is known for his defense.  Other than Taylor’s steady minutes, Boeheim still seems to be figuring out his bench rotation.  He’s gone at least eight deep in every ACC game, but it’s been with different guys.  

Beating The Zone

The biggest challenge of playing Syracuse is dealing with Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense.  Virginia has had good success against them, winning seven of the last eight meetings.  Bennett will use two different zone offenses.  It’ll turn into a bit of a chess match, as the coaches adjust to what the other is doing. 

No matter which set UVA is in,  the key is having a player in the middle who can make plays and good decisions.  That, and just making shots.  You have to hit some threes to beat Syracuse.  Almost 47% of their opponents’ attempts come from behind the arc, one of the highest rates in the nation.  

Center Play

UVA had some defensive problems up front against Pittsburgh, particularly when Kadin Shedrick was out of the game.  Backup center Francisco Caffaro wasn’t available due to a foot injury.  We don’t know his status for Saturday.  They had to turn to their small-ball lineup of Jayden Gardner and Ben Vander Plas together, despite Pittsburgh having a true big man that was hard for them to keep off the offensive glass.  

Again, UVA will face a team with an active athletic big man in Syracuse’s Jesse Edwards. The Wahoos need a good performance from Kadin Shedrick, and especially for him to avoid foul trouble. He delivered a double-double (12P 11R) against the Orange in last season’s win.  It’ll be interesting to see which lineup UVA uses when he does rest, and how they perform.  

The Syracuse zone also makes them vulnerable to allowing offensive rebounds.  That’s not typically a UVA strength, but it’s something they’ve taken advantage of in past meetings.  

Home Stretch

After three out of the first four conference games being on the road, Virginia now gets three of the next four at home.  UNC will be in town on Tuesday, the Hokies next Wednesday, with a trip to Florida State sandwiched in between.  None of those are easy by any means.  But it’s a stretch that the Hoos need to take advantage of if they’re going to climb back into the ACC race. Starting with Syracuse, of course.

(Featured Image Credit: Getty)

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