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Syracuse men’s basketball vs. Virginia preview: 5 things to watch for

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Can the Orange get sweet, sweet revenge or wind up with more disappointment?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 06 Virginia at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Buckle up for round two, basketball fans. On Saturday, the Syracuse Orange men’s hoops team takes on the Virginia Cavaliers in John Paul Jones Arena at 4 p.m. ET.

Am I excited about the rematch? No, I am not. It’s almost cruel to have to play Virginia twice, and doubly so to play them after they just lost. I’m sure they’ll be extra mad and extra focused against the Orange. I’d expect no less from a Tony Bennett Virginia squad.

Virginia averages an abysmal 55.7 points per game, 350th out of 353 in division one. The problem? Their opponents score only 47.6 per contest. Syracuse scored 34 the first time the teams clashed. And that was at the Dome.

If you thought it was bad against Virginia Tech on Tuesday, it’s going to get a whole lot uglier this weekend. We’ll have to wait and see if the Orange can get up off the mat and finally pick up a quality win.

And while we wait, let’s check out the five things to watch for during the game.

Virginia Tech v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

1. Defensive Rebounding

On the defensive end, Syracuse has been flat out awful in the rebounding department. Our opponents have missed 231 shots (roughly), and Syracuse has collected 147 rebounds. We’ve given up 84 offensive rebounds.

Our opponents are grabbing 36.4% of their misses. That means that more than one out of every three rebounds, our opponents get a second chance to score. And then they have more than a one in three chance of it happening again.

And again. And again.

This team needs to figure out the defensive rebounding, and they need to figure it out now. If they don’t, it will get ugly quickly against the Cavaliers.

Navy v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

2. Containing Mamadi Diakite

Will the Orange be able to contain big man Mamadi Diakite? In the first meeting, the 6-foot-10 center had 12 points and six rebounds, certainly not gaudy numbers. But he hit several key buckets and made a few outstanding defensive plays, including two timely blocks in the second half.

If Syracuse can keep him under control and keep him to the same totals as the first game, that’s definitely a good sign and opens the door for an upset.

Navy v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

3. How healthy is Braxton Key?

Against Boston College in the waning moments of the game, Braxton Key took a nasty fall. He came up holding his wrist and wincing in pain. It honestly did not look good, especially considering he had already missed three games due to an earlier wrist injury he sustained against Arizona State back in November.

Coach Tony Bennett gave an update on Key’s injury during his radio show, saying that the doctors said everything looked good for Braxton, but a fall like that on an already injured wrist could still be quite tender for days. Will it effect his offense or rebounding against the Orange?

Key has been one of the few bright spots on the sub-par Virginia offense. He’s averaging 10.8 points and a team leading 7.8 rebounds per contest. In his last three games he’s averaging 16.3 points per game and has shot over 57% from the field.

If he isn’t 100%, it could be a big break for the Orange.

Virginia Tech v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

4. The bench... please give us the bench!

Against Virginia Tech, a total of six players saw the court. Six.

Three of them played all 40 minutes: Buddy Boeheim, Elijah Hughes, and Joe Girard. Marek Dolezaj played 34, and assuredly would have played all 40 had he not fouled out. Shocking, I know.

Boeheim seems to think these kids are immortal. And yes, I’m sure playing 40 minutes of basketball isn’t going to kill them. But it certainly isn’t helping them at the end of the game.

Dead legs = short shots. Tired players = slow reaction times.

Getting some subs in for a couple minutes each half — yes, even for Elijah — could allow our starters to reserve a bit more energy for the end of the game. It would also get some of our young guys a chance to develop against ACC competition. They’ll need that if they’re going to get better.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 29 St Bonaventure at Syracuse

5. Transition

“We’re not a running team. We’re not gonna run the whole year. We don’t get rebounds or turnovers, we’re not gonna run.”

That was Jim Boeheim during his presser after the Virginia Tech game.

Isn’t it his responsibility as a coach to coach the team to be better? Isn’t it his exact job to put them in position to get rebounds and create turnovers? Shouldn’t he be trying to get them to learn to be better on the fastbreak?

This is your team, Jim.

Let’s hope we see some improvement in this department against Virginia or we could get buried early. I’d love to see the team come out aggressive and look to prove themselves. A win would be great, and hey, crazier things have happened this year in college basketball.