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Syracuse men’s basketball vs. Virginia Tech preview: Five things to watch

The Orange look to improve to 4-3 in the ACC against the Hokies

Virginia Tech v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

Coming off back-to-back ACC wins, the Syracuse Orange are finally showing some signs of growth and progress. After closing out Virginia in overtime on the road, Syracuse basketball blew the doors off the barn against Boston College at the Dome on Wednesday.

The most impressive part of the win? SU was dominant on both sides of the ball. On offense, Buddy Boeheim, Joe Girard, and Elijah Hughes combined for 53 of the team’s 76 points and all eight of three-pointers. On defense, the Orange shut down Boston College’s already inept offense with a “pack the paint” style that forced the Eagles into three-point shots. That is not their strength, and they missed their first 15 attempts and dug themselves a hole they couldn’t get out of.

I loved this game because Syracuse played smart and played to their strengths. That was a well-played, well-coached game and exactly what the Orange needed. Now we turn our sights to the Virginia Tech Hokies, a team that already beat us in the Dome less than two weeks ago.

Let’s take a look at the 5 things you should watch for during the game.

Virginia Tech v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

1. Elijah Hughes three-point woes

In his last six games, Elijah is shooting just 34.2 percent from the three-point line. Obviously that’s not a terrible number, but it is considerably lower than Elijah’s overall 41 percent from three.

The main reason for the drop? Too many contested attempts. Elijah Hughes has range out of the gym, but he, like virtually any shooter, does not fair so well when his shot is contested. And considering how important he has become to the Syracuse offense, he has taken it upon himself in recent games to try and get himself going from three, even when the shot isn’t necessarily a great one.

I’d really like to see Elijah defer in those situations, or else shot fake and drive instead of just going NBA-mode and jacking a contested three. Yes, he can make them. But the probability is a lot lower than an open shot. Missed threes can lead to fast break opportunities, so hopefully he focuses on taking high quality shots against Virginia Tech.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 07 Virginia Tech at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2. Buddy Boeheim’s offensive repertoire

That was easily the most impressive game of Buddy Boeheim’s career in Orange. And the main reason wasn’t due to his three-point prowess. It was Buddy’s repeated ability to drive into the paint and score in transition that were so impressive against the Eagles.

Yes, I realize that Boston College had no rim protector, but they are also not a slouch on defense. They’re giving up 67 points per game, which is 111th in the country. That’s still within the top third of the nation. And watching the game, they looked the part. Their man-to-man was fierce and agressive. Even so, Buddy was able to torch it.

We need to see that more consistently if Syracuse is going to make a run in the ACC. A Buddy that can score at all three levels make this team much more threatening.

Virginia Tech v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

3. A Brycen Goodine draws near!

Like a mythical beast out of an old-school RPG, Brycen Goodine made a rare appearance against the Eagles on Wednesday. And he did not dissapoint.

Donning a plastic mask to protect his broken nose, Goodine scored five points on a couple of very nice drives. His second basket, an up-and-under, acrobatic layup in traffic was a thing of beauty, and an athletic feat few on this team (or in the country even) could match. It felt like he would never land.

I really hope we start to see more Brycen. In a recent presser, Jim Boeheim mentioned that we might start to see more of the rotation soon and that everyone was practicing much better, so hopefully that includes Goodine. He has the raw athleticism to be great. He just needs to work on tightening his dribble and getting over his nerves.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

4. Howard Washington, the defender we need

Howard Washington checked into the game against Boston College fairly early to spell Joe Girard. Normally, he sees about 2-4 minutes, then Joe comes back in. But this time, Howard played far too well for Jim to take him out of the game. Although the box score shows just two points, Howard’s true value was as a distributor and defender.

In just 13 minutes Washington dished out three assists and three steals. Offensively, he did a great job of getting the ball to players in a position to score. He did have a couple of turnovers, but both were in already unsettled situations and not entirely his fault.

Defensively, Howard Washington was an absolute force. His instincts and anticipation were off the charts. He had three steals, but also had his hands on at least four or five other passes. He was seemingly everywhere on the court, defending his section of the zone with precision, but also offering some impressive help defense down low that led to several turnovers or bad shots by Boston College.

Give me more of Howard as well. Not only does it give Joe (or Buddy) a much needed rest, it isn’t a huge step down overall. His tremendous defense makes up for his lackluster shooting, and I want to see him get more playing time. Ideally, I’d love to see a four guard rotation where Buddy and Joe play 30 minutes each, and Howard and Brycen get the rest.

Virginia Tech v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

5. Outscoring the Hokies from outside

I know I talked a lot about individual players, so let’s talk a bit about team defense. Last time the Orange played Virginia Tech, we gave up 10 three-pointers while hitting just six of our own. If Syracuse wants to win in Blacksburg, we’re going to need to flip the script.

On defense, Joe and Buddy need to extend the zone as much as possible, and do a better job of staying in front of their guards when they try and drive. Both looked much better against Boston College, now we’ll see how they fare against a more disciplined offensive team.

On offense, we need a better showing than last time. In the first meeting, the Orange went 6-for-17 from three, 35.3 percent. While that’s not a bad percentage, the volume is just too low for this team. We live and die by the three, and need to make a concerted effort this game to get more outside shot opportunities. If we can get to at least nine or 10 makes from the outside, Syracuse has a great shot to win this game.

Let us know what you’ll be watching for in the comments below!