In arguably the least-expected matchup of the weekend, the Syracuse Orange face the Virginia Cavaliers in the Midwest Regional Final, with a trip to the Final Four on the line. These teams are familiar with each other since they share a conference. That sounds problematic...
We spoke to Caroline Darney from SB Nation's always excellent Virginia blog, Streaking the Lawn, to get a full download on all things UVa. There are some answers to questions over there too, because apparently people want to know more about what the hell's been going on with the Orange these last couple weeks.
Didn't expect to see us here, did you?
When I first saw it, I assumed it was lax. Didn't you guys have to play anyone hard?
Virginia's seemingly mastered the Orange since SU joined the ACC. What's caused that sort of advantage over the last three seasons?
It is incredibly difficult to have that sort of win streak over anyone, especially when you consider consider it's Boeheim and the Orange. I'm not sure that there is any one factor that has given Virginia the advantage the last three years. Versatile players like Malcolm Brogdon, outside shooters like Joe Harris and London Perrantes, and big men with some range like Mike Tobey and Isaiah Wilkins lend themselves to bust the Syracuse zone. Additionally, the games have come in big situations - Virginia clinching the ACC - in two of the three meetings, and two of the three have been played in Charlottesville, as well.
No, really, how glad are you guys that Michigan State's not here?
-Honestly, I think a lot of the Virginia fans would have liked to see Michigan State in order to get the monkey of our backs. Is this going to keep being set up until Virginia gets the win? That said, the Spartans were arguably the hottest team coming into the tournament, so avoiding that is always a plus. While it's nice to have an "easier" path to move on, the narrative has changed from "Virginia won't beat MSU" to "if Virginia doesn't win now that MSU is out of the way, it's a choke job", which is irritating. Don't you just love narratives?
If there's one thing about Syracuse's game that scares you, what might it be?
-The scariest thing about Syracuse is the ability for three point shooters (Cooney, Gbinije, Richardson) getting hot. Back in January, the Hoos had pretty good control of the game from start to finish, but Syracuse kept it interesting via 24 and 23 points from Gbinije and Richardson, respectively. The duo combined for 11-of-19 shooting from beyond the arc, including some flat out unconscious shots from Richardson. If those two and Trevor "YOLO" Cooney get hot or confident early, who knows what kind of game this will be. Additionally, the familiarity aspect that is involved in this game is a little scary for me as we each know how the other operates.
What's gone right for Virginia all tournament? How can the Hoos replicate it against SU?
The offense has gone right, and it has been delightful. Defensively, the Hoos have done enough to get it done (as we all expected), but the offense is what has pushed Virginia that little bit further. Virginia's 54 point second half against Butler and 45 point first half against ISU showed how quickly - and what a large variety of ways - the Hoos can score. Against ISU, which, granted, has a very pedestrian defense, Virginia assisted 26 of 32 baskets. That's impressive any way you cut it.
Oh, and the fact that Malcolm Brogdon had eight points from the field on 4-13 shooting against ISU and Virginia put up 84 points is encouraging. They're getting production from several places, whether it's Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey, London Perrantes, Devon Hall, Darius Thompson, Isaiah Wilkins, or Marial Shayok. If they can replicate solid games from Gill (23 points), Tobey (18 points), and Perrantes (9 assists, 0 turnovers) AND get a Malcolm-like performance from Malcolm, they'd be in good shape against y'all.
Where does Virginia stand on this whole ACC pride thing? We're torn.
I'm on board with the ACC pride thing, especially now that Duke is out. No, but seriously. I think the ACC is the most difficult conference day in and day out, and the success that the conference has seen says a lot about how tough it is. The fact that Sunday is all-ACC is just absurd. It is embarrassing that a team as BAD as Syracuse is still clunking along thanks to beneficial matchups though...I don't know why more media outlets aren't talking about it. Has anyone called Gottlieb?
What would a Final Four berth mean for this Hoos program?
A Final Four berth would be incredible for the team, the University, the fans...I don't know if I can put it into words. This is Virginia's first Elite Eight since 1995, and we haven't been to the Final Four since 1984. I wasn't born yet. I don't know a world in which UVA is a Final Four team, and it's incredible to be this close. Coach Bennett, aka the World's Greatest Everything, has put together a program that is easy to root for, built on fundamentals, and set up for continued success. The narrative that Tony Bennett "chokes" in the post season (which is frankly ridiculous anyway) would be put to rest (hopefully), and I would celebrate for a month straight.
Syracuse beats UVa if _____.
Syracuse beats UVA if they are hot from three and Virginia has an off shooting day.
Prediction time: Score and how it happens.
This is terrifying. I think this games follows a prototypical UVA game - both teams battle back and forth until about 10 minutes left in the second half when Virginia creates some distance. I'm going to take the Hoos, 68-57.