Has the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team truly turned things around? It’s doubtful we get that answer against the Virginia Cavaliers... unless the Orange pull off the win on the road, of course. Then in that case, it’ll be standing room only for the bandwagon. A loss to a ranked Hoos squad doesn’t dash all NCAA Tournament hopes either. Just means one fewer big opponent to potentially record a win against.
Before the Orange battle Virginia at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN on Monday, we preview some of the most important things to watch throughout the game.
Kevin: Controlling tempo
Virginia has only allowed one team to reach the 70-point mark against them this season (Gonzaga). The Cavaliers are playing their usual brand of efficient offense and stellar defense but they aren’t a strong rebounding team. Syracuse needs to rebound and create turnovers to try and get good shots before the Virginia defense can get set. If the Orange can get out on the break they can force the pace of this game and try and turn into more of a shootout.
Christian: Everyone grab a board
Outside of Sam Hauser and Jay Huff, the rebounding numbers from Virginia aren’t exactly world-beating. Virginia has the best rebounding defense in the ACC, giving up 28.3 per game. However, the Cavaliers only grab 32.3 rebounds per game, which is second to last in the conference. Virginia sits just above Virginia Tech in the ACC in rebounding margin, and the Orange did just enough to win the battle on the boards against the Hokies on Saturday. A large part of that was eight combined rebounds from Joe Girard and Buddy Boeheim. You’d probably expect Huff to have a good rebounding game against Dolezaj, which puts the pressure on the guards to scoop up the remaining loose shots that the Virginia frontcourt doesn’t initially come down with.
Szuba: Slower than molasses in January
If you were hoping for a track meet, we’ve got news for you: this game will be played at a snail’s pace. Virginia fast breaks about as much as your grandparents as the Hoos are the only team in the country with an adjusted tempo below 60.0 (possessions per game). Syracuse is about average with 69.3, with its offense markedly quicker than its opponents’. Expect Virginia to control the pace which means each possession is that much more meaningful. Syracuse and Virginia don’t turn it over much, so that’s a key area to watch in a fewer possession game.
John: SU better hope threes are falling
As covered here numerous times, Syracuse is not an overly accurate team shooting from outside, hitting just 32.1% from three. The streaky nature of things has led to fewer attempts at times (and more at others), but weirdly this may be a time for SU to let it fly out there. Virginia’s one of the worst three-point shooting defenses in the country (allows 34.6% to hit), so with the interior potentially shut down, the Orange’s best may be to keep shooting from outside. Granted, UVA’s efficient enough to keep up. But the higher the score here, the more likely Virginia is not in their element.