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Syracuse men’s basketball: what to watch for vs Virginia

ACC Opener

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange (5-2, 0-0) will open the 2023-24 ACC slate when they go on the road to face the Virginia Cavaliers (6-1, 0-0) for a Noon tip on ESPN2. What are we watching for tomorrow?

Mike: Break Through on the Boards

Virginia is the lowest-scoring team in the ACC by far. SU’s depth has struggled to put up points and if not for facing Chaminade, their average p.p.g. would also be a lot lower. That said, both teams have hammered the offensive glass and whoever does that better tomorrow should come out on top. Look for SU to go big early and force UVA to run up their foul counter before swapping out personnel for some fast breaks.

Max: Keep an eye on a Long Island native

UVA’s Ryan Dunn has exploded onto the scene in his sophomore season. Listed as a 6’8 guard from Freeport, Dunn leads the Cavaliers in rebounds, steals, blocks and is second in points per game. He can play anywhere on the court, and his length makes him a matchup nightmare for the Orange in the paint. Keeping Dunn off the glass will be the highest priority for Naheem McLeod and Maliq Brown on Saturday.

Kevin: Smart offense

Virginia is 6th in adjusted defense on KenPom, which shouldn’t come as a surprise for a Tony Bennett team. Against the Cavaliers, the Orange must learn from their mistakes in Hawaii when they forced too many tough mid-range shots leading to empty possessions. Judah Mintz is going to be able to get past his defender which means the other Syracuse players need to get in position to get open looks against the Pack Line defense. If the Orange settle for too many contested jumpers, it could be a long afternoon.

Dom: Don’t count on transition looks

Virginia will look to play a conventional, slow pace and beat teams with their physicality, defense and ball movement. The Cavaliers don’t make many mistakes and turn the ball over the least in the ACC. Guys like Mintz and J.J. Starling aren’t going to have as many opportunities to get out and go in transition as they normally would. Can they still break in the half court? Can Chris Bell continue to be the second scorer behind Mintz, or does someone else step up to shoulder the offensive load?

Szuba: Who can dictate tempo?

Building on Dom’s point, Syracuse wants to get up and down and play in transition. Virginia plays slower than molasses and wants to play in the halfcourt. Whoever dictates tempo will decide the game. It’s usually easier to slow a game down than it is to speed it up, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Orange can play to the speed of Red’s liking. To do that, it’ll have to rebound as Mike mentioned, but even that might not be enough to speed up Virginia’s deliberate playstyle.

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What will you be watching for tomorrow?