Teams: Syracuse Orange (14-5, 5-1) vs. Virginia Tech Hokies (15-3, 4-2)
Day & Time: Saturday, January 26 at 8 p.m. ET
Location: Cassell Coliseum, Blacksburg, Virginia
Line: TBD. ESPN’s BPI gives Virginia Tech an 83.9 percent chance of winning against the Orange.
Radio: Syracuse IMG Network, WAER 88.3, Sirius 93/XM 193
Virginia Tech blog: Gobbler Country
Rivalry: 9-3, Syracuse
Current Streak: 1, Orange
First Meeting: Virginia Tech closed out the regular season Syracuse career for head coach Roy Danforth. The Orangemen and Hokies played inside Manley Field House back in March of 1976, with the road team winning, 92-81.
It was actually Syracuse’s fourth loss in a row. The team, however, rebounded by taking out Manhattan and Niagara in the ECAC tourney (also played in Manley) in order to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. The Orangemen went one-and-done in the tourney, losing to Texas Tech, 69-56.
Despite helping revive the hoops program at the school, even taking SU to four consecutive NCAA tournaments, with a Final Four trip in 1975, Danforth bolted central New York for Tulane following the loss to the Red Raiders. Syracuse then decided to hire Danforth’s assistant—and the golf coach—to take over the basketball program.
Last Meeting: Syracuse beat up Buzz Williams’ Virginia Tech Hokies, 68-56 in the Carrier Dome in December of last season. After the Orange held the Hokies to 35 points below their average, Williams credited Jim Boeheim and his style of zone defense, saying “the prep time it takes to prepare” for Syracuse makes it as difficult and unique an opponent as there is in the ACC.
Freshman Oshae Brissett tallied 19 points, and Matthew Moyer (I know, right?!) had a career high of 11 points and 13 rebounds for the Orange. It was a solid offense output for Boeheim’s team, with Tyus Battle and Frank Howard both chipping in with 17 points of their own in the win.
Despite the statistics, it wasn’t a complete run away for the SU. Virginia Tech went on a 12-2 run to open the second half, closing to within three points in just over five minutes of action. Syracuse, though, was able to recover, going on an 11-0 run, which all but sealed the deal.
Following the victory, Syracuse, which had improved to 12-2 overall, immediately face-planted. The Orange would go on to lose four straight games.
Head Coaches: SU: Jim Boeheim (43rd year, 1041-376);; Virginia Tech: Buzz Williams (5th year, 89–63—242–149 overall)
Coach Bio: The Texas native got his sweaty start in coaching at UT-Arlington in 1994 as an assistant, then bounced around a bit from there. He spent a season each at Texas A&M-Kingsville and Northwestern State, then four years at Colorado State and another two at Texas A&M (the main one, in College Station). Buzz got his first head coaching gig at New Orleans, but was back on the assistant grind after a year, moving on to Marquette. He’d take over as coach a year later, putting together a pretty solid run with the Eagles. MU made the NCAAs in his first five seasons there, and the team won two straight Big East regular season titles. Williams jumped to Virginia Tech in 2014, gradually improving the on-court product each year.
As a head coach, Williams’s top accomplishment has been leading Marquette to an Elite Eight loss to Syracuse in 2013. Since heading to Blacksburg, Williams has been able to get his teams to the NCAA Tournament twice (the previous two seasons), but he has yet to advance into the second round.
Last Year: Last season had its ups and downs, but it has to be viewed as something of a success for the Hokies. Williams guided his team to a 21-10 regular-season record, 10-8 in the ACC. That includes three potentially monumental victories: an 80-69 home win over No. 10 North Carolina, a heart-stopping 61-60 overtime road defeat of No. 2 Virginia, and, in another thriller, a 64-63 home victory of No. 5 Duke.
Those three results are likely why Virginia Tech was able to avoid the bubble talk and qualify for March Madness as an at large invitee. Those games could also have been cause for confusion for fans as well. It seemed strange Williams’ Hokies could take down three top-10 teams while also being swept by Louisville and Miami.
Either way, Virginia Tech did get its second-straight NCAA tourney invitation—no small feat for the program. The Hokies ultimately lost Alabama, 86-83.
Last Game: Ohhhhhhh man, Virginia Tech, a supposedly top-ten team, went to Chapel Hill and got whooped up on by No. 11 North Carolina. The Tar Heels used a 20-0 (TWENTY TO ZERO!) run in the first half to take a 45-31 lead at intermission. In the second half, the beat down got worse, as North Carolina sunk 15 of its final 22 three-point attempts in cruising to a 103-82 win.
After losing by 22 at No. 3 Virginia last weekend, the Hokies have now suffered back-to-back humiliating defeats. Yet, according to ESPN, Tech head coach Buzz Williams wasn’t exactly bitter after being rail-roaded by UNC, saying his team had a “different” energy and effort against the Heels than it did against the Cavaliers. Okay?
Four of five starters did hit for double figures for the Hokies, led by senior Ahmed Hill, who tallied 20 points. The bench, meanwhile, consisting of two players, totaled five points for the game.
”Fear Me, I’ve Killed Hundreds of Timelords”: Nickeil Alexander-Walker has hit 10 of 20 attempts from three over the last three games. Alexander-Walker also leads Va Tech in scoring (18.3), assists (3.5) and also collects just over four rebounds per game. The sophomore guard has led Virginia Tech in scoring in 10 of its 18 games and Alexander-Walker has scored in double figures in all but one contest this season.
Senior Ahmed Hill is also a potential zone-buster. The senior guard is shooting just over 44 percent from deep. He was that lone bright spot in the otherwise dark loss at North Carolina, making four of his seven three-point attempts.
If Syracuse Wins: Okay, then I would be ready to say it: This is the Syracuse team most of us expected to see back when the season first started. A victory in Blacksburg would up the ACC record to 6-1 and, even though the Hokies have been struggling, would have people, locally and nationally, wondering just what the limit is on this team.
If Syracuse Loses: Ain’t no thing. So long as Syracuse doesn’t get run out of Cassell Coliseum, then no one should freak out over a road loss to a ranked conference opponent. Not to mention, Virginia Tech is going to be as up for this game as it could possibly get, seeing that it’s desperate for a win and playing in front of a home crowd in a nationally televised game.
Fun Fact No. 1: Virginia Tech has a total of 10 NCAA Tournament berths all time, two of which coming in the last two seasons. That kind of history makes what Buzz Williams has already done in Blacksburg that much more impressive.
Fun Fact No. 2: Among Virginia Tech’s notable alumni is Curtis John Dvorak. Just who is Dvorak? Well, he was the first person to play Jaxson de Ville of course!
Jaxson de Ville...Jacksonville!
Dvorak was the Jacksonville Jaguars’ mascot until retiring back in 2015. He was officially Vice President of Mascot Relations for the Jags. Which begs the question: if Dvorak was the the first person to ever be Jacksonville’s mascot, a role he held for nearly 20 years, who the hell was President of Mascot Relations? The San Diego Chicken?