This is what the season boils down to, basically. Just behind Virginia in the standings, if Syracuse wins this game, they're in the driver's seat to win the regular season title. If they lose, we're panicking. We've had a rough few weeks in Orange Nation, but the hope is that we'll turn things around tomorrow against a very good Hoos squad. On the other hand, Virginia's now won 12 straight. This should be "fun."
We chatted with Paul Wiley of SB Nation's Streaking the Lawn to get some answers leading up to Saturday's game. Check those out below, and stay tuned for our own responses over on Streaking the Lawn as well.
Has Syracuse or their fans pissed you guys off yet? Do you like us being in the ACC?
I have a double dose of bias on this question, being a lacrosse fanatic and having family from upstate New York. In my family, we’ve hated Syracuse for a long time. But objectively, I think Boeheim didn’t do himself any favors with his tantrum at the end of the Duke game (without going into the merits of the call), or with his continued griping in the post-game press conference. He may have gotten some goodwill back by taking a swipe at Maryland whining about a late no-call. Overall, I like the added competition in multiple sports and another dilution of the influence of the Tobacco Road cartel.
I know Virginia fans expected to succeed this year, but is THIS is a surprise?
Short answer: Yes. This is rapidly shaping up to be the best regular season we’ve ever had. And there’s no Ralph, there’s no Bryant Stith, there’s no Curtis Staples. The fact that we’ve enjoyed this kind of success without overwhelming dominance from any one player is doubly good news: we get to have the success now and not see it walk out the door come graduation. I think it’s safe to say U.Va. fans have bought into what Tony is selling, and we’re looking forward to the next several years.
Quick lacrosse question: Obviously James Pannell's dangerous, but who else should we be concerned about?
Mark Cockerton scored seven goals against Mt. St. Mary’s. It was against Mt. St. Mary’s, but it was still seven goals. He’s on pace to break Doug Knight’s single-season U.Va. scoring record, and showed plenty of ability to fill it up last season. Pannell and Cockerton combine to make a pretty lethal one-two punch, and that’s before factoring in Ryan Tucker, Rob Emery or any of the other midfield cannons.
Where should visiting Orange fans be sure to stop by down in Charlottesville this weekend?
For anyone who is a devoted Dave Matthews fan, a pilgrimage to Miller’s on the Downtown Mall is a must. In general, anywhere Downtown is a solid bet. The Corner is U.Va.’s main drag of bars and nightlife; St. Maarten’s Cafe is a nice place to get a good beer and some quality grub. Folks who are staying for a few days really shouldn’t miss Monticello; yes it’s touristy, yes it’s cliche, but it’s really well done.
Back to hoops: Who's the one SU player inspiring the most concern among the UVa faithful?
Tyler Ennis. Our own freshman phenom at the point, London Perrantes, has shown some defensive weakness so far. But he does so much to keep the offense moving like it should that Tony Bennett is going to be hard-pressed to pull him out. There could be some interesting machinations with defensive match ups; don’t be surprised to see big, strong, fast Malcolm Brogdon slide over to guard him, or Justin Anderson to come off the bench and play his shutdown role.
Syracuse will be sure to key in on Joe Harris, but who else should be a defensive focus?
Joe will kill you if you leave him room to shoot, and Saturday is his Senior Day (along with Akil Mitchell). But Brogdon is our leading scorer for a reason: his combo of size, speed, and outside shooting makes him a pretty tough matchup. If Brogdon can drive into the heart of the zone and make it collapse, he has options both inside (Mitchell and Anthony Gill) and outside (Harris, Perrantes, and Anderson).
Does John Paul Jones Arena provide a true home court advantage?
In the last two years, we’ve lost four games at home, and zero in ACC play. You want to hear a place get loud, watch what happens with a transition block by Anderson that leads to a fast-break dunk or three. The layout of the student section means you see it from any seat in the building; when the old fogeys with the court side season tickets feed off the students’ energy, the JPJ turns into one of the loudest arenas in the conference. It may not have the size of the Carrier Dome or the smothering closeness of Cameron, but it definitely has volume on its side.
How far can this Hoos team go this season?
Defense travels. We’ve won seven conference games on the road, we’ve won games when we’ve gotten up and down and scored, and we’ve won games where we’ve had to slow it down and grind it out. Bennett spent most of the first few months tinkering with his lineup, but the ones we’ve run with since conference play began have featured guys who know their role and perform it EXTREMELY well. Quick turnaround games, when teams haven’t had a ton of time to prepare for the Pack Line defense, are going to work in our favor. I think we can play and keep it close with just about anybody.
What's your prediction for Saturday's game (score and a thought or two)?
The way our offense has looked against a couple of zones recently, I’m nervous. But at the same time, we’ve played against a lot of zone recently. Miami has athleticism and switches their zone looks up a lot, so maybe that works as a (very) poor man’s Syracuse. The only thing I feel certain about is that it’s going to be a slog. I don’t expect the game to get much beyond one or two possessions in favor of either team at any given time. But we won a game like that at Pittsburgh. KenPom has us as a favorite by a slim margin but with a high probability of victory. I’ll follow him: 54-50, Virginia.
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