After handling Miami at home Thursday, the Syracuse Orange have a quick turnaround as it heads down to Blacksburg, Va., to take on Virginia Tech tonight from Cassell Colisium. The Hokies were part of a six-way tie atop the ACC at the beginning of the week, but fell apart on the road against North Carolina on Big Monday. Still, VT sits at 4-2 in the conference and boasts one of the best offenses in the country.
Virginia Tech is undefeated at home this season too while the Orange will put its undefeated road record on the line tonight. With that in mind we reached out to our pals at Gobbler Country to gather intel on the Hokies and Josh Warner was kind enough to turn these around on short notice.
TNIAAM: Virginia Tech came into the year with a lot of hype but then lost Chris Clarke. How big of a loss was that?
Josh Warner: Losing Clarke was huge. While his impact wasn’t always seen in the box score, he was a leader and was a hustle player. He played with a ton of energy, hustled to loose balls, and was a fire cracker for the team. In addition to his talent and energy, having him would’ve helped our depth issue. While PJ Horne and Ty Outlaw have played well this season, having another body in the paint would’ve been huge. So in conclusion, a pretty big loss.
TNIAAM: It’s been a pretty successful season thus far for Virginia Tech, but not many wins stick out at this point. Is that a concern going forward?
JW: Yes and no. We have only had two chances for a key win, (UVA and UNC) and neither went as we all hoped. UVA shot the lights out and we had foul trouble against UNC which played a big role, but good teams need to overcome things like that. With that being said, we have taken care of other solid teams when we have played them. The Syracuse game will be crucial, but win or lose against them, we do need a signature win soon. We’ll have chances against NC State, Duke, and UVA and if we’re really a top 10 team like we think we are, we have to win a couple of those games.
TNIAAM: Monday night VT took an early lead against North Carolina, but then seemed to fall apart when Justin Robinson got into foul trouble. Is that indicative of how important he is to this team or is that just an aberration?
JW: Really good question. Us looking clueless when Robinson went out was very bad. Of course him being out was huge, but the game was also beginning to turn toward UNC. Robinson is the centerpiece and leader of our team so losing him anytime is huge, but guys like Alexander-Walker and Blackshear will usually step up and hopefully we’ll be okay. Also as a sidenote: Nickeil Alexander-Walker was in foul trouble as well and went out of the game.
TNIAAM: How has Nickeil Alexander-Walker emerged this season?
JW: NAW very quickly became a big name on NBA scouts mind this season. He has become one of the best shooters in the country, is a good perimeter defender, finishes around the rim, and is a solid playmaker/ball handler. Hopefully, he continues to grow and will step up big down the stretch in tournament play. Some mock drafts have him being drafted late in the lottery.
TNIAAM: How important are Ahmed Hill and Ty Outlaw? And how old is Outlaw?
JW: Both of these guys are important. They both help stretch the floor, have a lot of experience, and can defend several positions. It’s important to have guys like that so it’s good people are noticing them. And Ty Outlaw is 23.
TNIAAM: How many undershirts does Buzz Williams wear these days and how many towels will he go through on Saturday?
JW: Phenomenal question! Not sure about the shirts but I can give a guess of the amount of towels. Syracuse runs a 2-3 zone so it’ll be slow paced and probably a close game. My best guess would for four or five towels, but hopefully the team can keep Buzz below two or three towels.
TNIAAM: This team can really score the ball. How can we expect VT to attack the Syracuse 2-3 zone?
JW: Tech’s offense has been top shelf when at home, but has struggled when on the road. Regardless of home or away, there’s a key to beating a zone defense: getting the ball into the middle and attacking the gaps. If our guards can hit Blackshear in the high post or the short corner, it’ll force the defense to collapse and allow for cutters to get open. The other advantage we should have is with Robinson and Alexander-Walker. If they decide to be aggressive and drive to the rim, they should have success. It all will come down to execution.
TNIAAM: Both teams play at a slow pace, but who wins this one, what’s the final score and why?
JW: Good question. I’m going to the take the Hokies in this one. Virginia Tech and Syracuse take their time, but Virginia Tech has more playmakers and has played very well at home this season. I expect a close one, but with a primetime crowd and a lot on the line, I say Tech makes plays down the stretch. Hokies 71, Syracuse 66
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While we will certainly not be saying ‘Go Hokies’ around these parts, thank you to Josh for turning this around on short notice. Full disclosure: my original email was sent to Jawhar Ali whom you might recall doing these with us in the past. The email was apparently stuck in my outbox and didn’t send, so thanks to Jawhar for following up, too.
I’ll be flying out of Laguardia today making my way down to Blacksburg for the game. Hopefully there will be no issues there (following yesterday’s development) and I’ll be able to bring you guys coverage on-site.
Anyway, drop a comment or two below and let us know how you feel heading into this one.