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Syracuse vs. Virginia preview: Four things to watch

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Let’s hope Malachi is watching, for one.

Syracuse v Virginia Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

So it’s come down to this. After taking care of business against the N.C. State Wolfpack on Wednesday, the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team faces the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers with an NCAA Tournament bid on the line. Win, and Syracuse is assuredly going dancing (while also advancing further than they ever have before in the ACC Tournament). Lose, and we’re going to be sweating things out come Selection Sunday.

Before the game tips off at noon ET, we preview what you may want to pay attention to most in this one.

Christian: Force Kihei Clark to shoot

Kihei Clark tore apart Syracuse with his passing from the high post the last time these two teams played. He had nine assists and he ranks fourth in the ACC with 4.52 assists per game. Clark only had four points in that win, and that needs to be a weakness that is exploited for Syracuse. The high post player often has the difficult decision to pass quickly or shoot quickly from his position, and the Orange made that easy for him last time. Syracuse collapsed quickly in the high post, leaving Trey Murphy and, more worryingly, Sam Hauser wide open for an easy kickout three. Clark could also easily get the ball to Jay Huff in the low post as well as the ball moved way too easily to open shooters across the Syracuse zone. The Orange need to force Clark to attempt shots, as he averages under 10 points a game. The more shots he takes, the less shots that Hauser and Huff take, which only helps Syracuse.

Kevin: Defending the Virginia game plan

In the last meeting Virginia got the ball to Kihei Clark in the high post and Syracuse failed to stay with the Virginia shooters. To win this game the Orange need to force Clark to become a scorer first and make sure they stick with Sam Hauser and Jay Huff. If Virginia’s role players beat you, you live with it but Syracuse can’t let Hauser and Huff dominate this one.

Szuba: Guard play

Don’t expect Buddy Boeheim to get the same looks as he did against NC State. It was tough sledding for the SU guards in the first meeting between Syracuse and Virginia as they combined to shoot 8-22 from the floor. But Joe Girard has played well of late. Can he continue that against the pack-line? This could be the kind of game where Kadary Richmond plays extended minutes, but if he’s hobbled by a his knee can he still be effective? Richmond didn’t look quite right against the Wolfpack. If Syracuse can pull of the upset, it needs its guards to play well.

John: Don’t settle for outside shots early

As discussed ad nauseum, Syracuse has been better off all year when they drive the ball inside and then use that to create space for shooters outside. It worked like a charm vs. NC State, but obviously it’s a much taller order to do the same against Virginia’s staunch pack line defense. While it may be tough at points, it’s still worth attacking the middle and forcing UVA away from the perimeter. Eventually, you can opt for good shots beyond the arc. But Syracuse has to put the work in first.