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NCAA Tournament: Syracuse vs. West Virginia preview Q&A with the Smoking Musket

We meet again

Murray State v West Virginia Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team is a win away from yet another Sweet 16 trip. But before we start focusing on that, there’s another game ahead. And against a familiar foe to boot.

Syracuse faces the West Virginia Mountaineers on Sunday. And to tell us more about them is Matt Kirchner, of SB Nation’s the Smoking Musket (which you can also follow on Twitter). Below, he tells us all we need to know about WVU before this game tips off.

It’s been awhile. How’s things?

Decent, mostly!

The Big 12 has, in general, been good to West Virginia. The fanbases are good to interact with, the games are generally fun, and it was a very necessary life boat from an untenable situation that would have eventually led to a drift to complete irrelevance (/glances sidewards towards Storrs).

It’s not, however, the old Big East. There’s no real emotional attachment to any of the games we play and that’s weird and gets kind of stale after a while. For that reason, this is the most excited I’ve been for a game in a long time.

Any key takeaways from the first round win over Morehead State?

I think they got what they needed from it: a legitimate challenge before pulling away late. No one on this team besides Gabe Osabuohien had any tournament experience (and his was a first round loss at Arkansas). They needed to acclimate to this stage and that’s what they got out of Friday’s game.

Syracuse has only lost to West Virginia once since 2002. Does that weigh on WVU fans entering this game? Or just add fuel to the fire?

There’s no doubt that Syracuse has been West Virginia’s Achilles Heel, even when we had some of our best teams in the Beilein and Big East Huggins era. I think it absolutely means something to West Virginia fans to win this game and gain some semblance of bragging rights in a series that the Orange have absolutely controlled.

What’s your expectation for this ‘Eers team in this tournament? Would you be happy with anything shy of an Elite 8 trip?

This is a team with Final Four potential, but saying that I’d be disappointed with anything shy of an Elite 8 trip is probably inaccurate. I think a potential Sweet 16 matchup with Houston is a good matchup for WVU, but a hard fought loss there wouldn’t necessarily crush me, even though I would expect a win.

Not getting out of the first weekend, especially now that a game with an old rival is in play, would suck butt.

WVU’s a very good three-point shooting team, but as SDSU just showed once again, trying to shoot over the zone isn’t the best approach. How do the Mountaineers attack this admittedly average 2-3 zone for Syracuse?

I do think this may be one of West Virginia’s best teams ever to deal with the Syracuse zone, though never really seeing it will absolutely come into play.

West Virginia does have big game shooters, but also has the capability to attack the middle of the zone with Derek Culver. If Culver gets in foul trouble, however, things could get weird for West Virginia fast because there’s not a ton of depth there.

Is there a major area of weakness that you think could present a problem against the Orange?

This is where I tell you that it’s Christmas, basically.

We go under screens on shooters a lot.

I have no further comment and will take no further interviews.

Is there an unsung player for West Virginia that SU should be more familiar with?

Taz Sherman is West Virginia’s human heat check and will be important to help balance out the fact that Buddy Boeheim is currently an unstoppable god. He had a not great night against Morehead State, but I’m chalking it up to first game jitters and expect him to be firing on Sunday evening.

Who’s the Syracuse player that you’re most concerned about?

/refers to prior answer about how we go under screens on shooters and stares into the camera

Prediction time: Who wins this one and why?

I think West Virginia eventually wins a very mentally stressful game for everyone involved. Deuce McBride, Sean McNeil, and Taz Sherman are able to outweigh Syracuse’s shooters and make a couple more shots down the stretch but everyone involved needs a cigarette or 23 afterwards.


Thanks again to Matt for taking the time to answer these. Check out the Smoking Musket for more on the Mountaineers.