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Syracuse Basketball: Why Have the Orange Struggled vs. Virginia?

What's gone wrong in the last two matchups between these two programs?

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Since arriving in the ACC back in 2013, the Syracuse Orange have beaten every team in the conference (and Maryland)... except the Virginia Cavaliers. Part of that's assisted by the fact that they've only had two shots at them so far, and UVA's been quite good throughout SU's short time in the league. But that also hasn't stopped the Orange from beating anyone else. So what have the Hoos done that Syracuse just can't seem to get past them?

Earlier, Michael provided a great rundown of statistics on Virginia, and they make a compelling case for why their winning streak over SU is likely to continue. But going back and looking at the last two contests between the schools, here's what stuck out as the biggest hurdles:

Virginia controlled the boards

That's not saying much against Syracuse, necessarily. We know how this typically goes. But in both previous ACC meetings, the Hoos absolutely dominated the Orange on the glass, out-rebounding them by a margin of 81-49. Offensive rebounds were 29-16 in favor of UVA. That's 13 additional scoring opportunities created between the two games. It's how you make a slog of an offense an efficient one.

Efficient three-point shooting

Another hallmark of teams that typically beat Syracuse: hitting those looks from three that the 2-3 zone eventually yields. Virginia didn't go for volume in either game, however. They just took smart shots and hit a pretty good percentage of them. Between the two games, UVA was 14-for-33 from three -- a clip over 42 percent. That's tough to beat in a low-scoring matchup. Syracuse failed to both hit threes (15 percent) and score (51.5 average points), in general, in these games against the Hoos. It's a recipe for failure against a team like Virginia.

Controlling the second half

Just as Syracuse's zone defense can sometimes wear down opponents over the course of a game, Virginia's stifling, physical approach can do the same too. In the second half of the previous matchups, UVA outscored the Orange by a total of 29 points, with SU failing to top 28 points in either second half. Virginia's style lends well to playing with a lead, and once the Hoos grab hold of a game, they're unlikely to let go. Hitting threes can help opponents, just like (similar to above) it helps Virginia in these sorts of slugfests. Look out for it on Sunday if the Orange find themselves trailing in the latter part of the game.

Stopping Syracuse's best player

While Syracuse has lacked a truly dynamic lead scorer in recent years, it doesn't mean there wasn't talent on the roster that could put the ball in the basket. But in the Orange's two losses, those players (Rakeem Christmas in 2015, Tyler Ennis or CJ Fair in 2014) were largely shut down. Despite Christmas's fantastic senior season last year, the UVA game was not a highlight. He'd tally just 10 points and four rebounds while battling foul trouble all game. For Fair and Ennis, depending on which you'd prefer to anoint as SU's "best" that year, the two hit just eight of 24 shots on the game. Ennis failed to really distribute the ball (just four assists), while Fair also went 0-for-5 from three-point range. The Hoos' style is similar from game-to-game, yes. But they also adjust slightly to key in on a team's top player, forcing the supporting cast to try and beat them. So watch out for how Michael Gbinije is guarded tomorrow.


Recounting those two losses wasn't fun. But at least it gives us a roadmap to figure out how Syracuse could just get over the hump and beat Virgina. They don't even have to overcome ALL of these things to do it. Even with two of the four issues above rectified, the Orange would stand a much better shot to pull an upset down in Charlottesville. Off the top of my head, rebounding and second half scoring look like the most addressable ones with this team. But what do you think?