‘Cuse Countdown Analysts Take a Look at SU’s ACC Opener vs. Virginia Tech
Our analysts give their keys to the game and predictions as SU gets set to open up ACC play against Virginia Tech on New Year’s Eve in the Carrier Dome.
Key to the Game: The SU Defense Must be Rock-Solid
The Syracuse defense has played very well for most of the season so far, but there is no room for error against the Hokies. The Orange has allowed an average of 62.7 PPG to opponents this year, placing them 21st in the country. Syracuse must exceed that performance to slow down an explosive Virginia Tech offense. The Hokies are first in the nation with a 54.5 shooting percentage and are sixth nationally in points per game, averaging 91.3. The Orange defense cannot afford any mistakes if they want to silence the VT offense.
Prediction: Syracuse 74-71
There’s not much separating these two teams, so it seems that this game should be pretty close. Both teams have two losses, one to a power five opponent and one to a mid-major school. It comes down to Syracuse’s ability to stop Virginia Tech’s high powered scoring attack, and the 2-3 zone should be sound enough to push the Orange past the Hokies.
Key to the Game: Make Your Shots
Look, Syracuse’s defense is going to keep this team in a lot of games. The big question is, can the Orange make enough shots to win in the ACC? Syracuse is last in the ACC this season so far in both field goal percentage (43 percent) and three-point percentage (30 percent). In SU’s two losses this season, the team shot just 32 percent. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, leads the ACC in the same categories. The Orange defense should tame the Hokies offense slightly, but in the end Syracuse needs to make shots on New Year’s Eve to win.
Prediction: Syracuse 79-72
Buzz Williams coached teams always play Syracuse tight, even back to his days with Marquette. I expect this game at the Dome to be no different, however, I expect the Orange to make enough shots to win this game. To be clear, that does not mean I expect the shooting numbers to be pretty, but the Hokies turn the ball over more than 13 times per game. This could give Syracuse the extra opportunities needed to pull out the win.
Key to the Game: Control the Boards
Virginia Tech’s three-point shot has received much of the credit for the team’s 10-2 start, but it’s their play inside the arc, specifically Forward Kerry Blackshear and Guard Chris Clarke, that will play a key role in Sunday’s matchup. As a team, VT knocks down 54.5 percent of its field goal attempts, so Syracuse cannot afford to allow second-chance points. Blackshear and Clarke each average around seven rebounds per game, and if the Orange can keep them in check underneath the rim, it has a chance to stay in the game.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 82-71
Virginia Tech is the nation’s best three-point shooting team, averaging 45.3 percent from beyond the arc. Syracuse’s zone practically dares teams to convert from beyond the arc, so that does not bode well for the Orange. The Hokies’ offense is averaging 91.3 points per game, good for sixth best in the country. Syracuse does not possess the ability to hang with Virginia Tech in a shootout, and as a result the Hokies will pick up a comfortable win in SU’s ACC opener.
Key to the Game: Control the Pace of the Game
Simply put, Buzz Williams’ squad is an offensive juggernaut. VT is averaging a shade under 92 points per game (6th in the country) through their first 13 contests, with five different players averaging double figures in scoring. This is a team that trailed number 8 Kentucky in Rupp Arena by only 2 with just minutes remaining and scored 103 points against a Mike Hopkins-led Washington team that primarily plays a 2-3 zone. However, VT was limited to just 63 points earlier this year against Presbyterian College. Syracuse can only win this game if they control the pace. Virginia Tech is most vulnerable when they play slow and turn the ball over. The Orange need to grind out offensive possessions and look for Tyus Battle to create his own shot deep in the shot clock. If ‘Cuse can hold the Hokies to a low shooting percentage and limit VT’s offensive touches, ‘Cuse should prevail.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 80-74
Virginia Tech’s offense is dynamic. They shoot the three (nine made threes per game), they score in transition, and they score in the paint. Syracuse has struggled to defend the three-point line, and foul trouble has been prevalent throughout the season. The Hokies offensive pressure will be too much for the SU 2-3 zone. With almost no help from the bench due to injuries and Geno Thorpe’s departure, fatigue and foul trouble spell disaster for the Orange.
Key to the Game: Stop the Three
Virginia Tech is one of the best three-point shooting teams in the entire country. The Hokies make roughly 44 percent of their threes, which is the second-best mark in the nation. On the flip side, Syracuse is shooting just less than 30 percent from beyond the arc, which is dead last in the ACC and 321st in the country. With that in mind, Virginia Tech wants to make this an up-tempo three point shooting contest, just like it did against Washington; The Hokies went a red-hot 15-22 from deep against Mike Hopkins’ bunch. Syracuse will be playing a similar zone defense and has to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to them.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 83-70
Virginia Tech is a matchup nightmare for Syracuse. The Orange struggle against strong offensive teams and the Hokies just happen to have one of the best offensive units in the country. They are averaging just over 91 points a game this season. Syracuse simply doesn’t have the offensive firepower to beat teams that can score like that. SU’s team is better suited to grind out low-scoring contests. I expect this one to be the opposite and end up feeling a lot like the Kansas game where Syracuse allows lots of threes in the second half and Virginia Tech ends up coasting to the finish line.
Key to the Game: Stay Out of Foul Trouble
With big man Bourama Sidibe potentially out for the season with recurring leg injuries, the Orange have just seven players in their rotation. The Hokies, on the other hand, have 10 players averaging double digit minutes. If Syracuse wants to stay competitive with Virginia Tech, they cannot afford to lose any key players to foul trouble, or they will be beaten by the depth of the Hokies.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 72-68
The Hokies are one of the best shooting teams in the country. Their ability to hit shots from behind the arc combined with their depth will be too much for the Orange to handle. Syracuse will hang tight to the end, but it will be a rough start to ACC play for SU.
Key to the Game: Secure Extra Possessions
Syracuse Center Paschal Chukwu is coming off his best game as an Orange, scoring 15 points and adding 12 rebounds, five on the offensive end. Because Jim Boeheim’s bunch shoots poorly from deep (29.8 percent from three-point range), ‘Cuse attacks the glass with authority. SU ranks fifth in offensive rebounds in the country, but Virginia Tech is inside the top 20 in defensive rebounds. If Chukwu and teammate Oshea Brissett can box out the Hokies’ Chris Clarke and Kerry Blackshear Jr., look for the Orange to neutralize some of its shooting woes.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 83-68
The Hokies sport one of college basketball’s most prolific offenses, as the team has racked up over 90 points in eight games this season. ‘Cuse, on the other hand, prefers to stay away from high-scoring affairs, typically winning contests by scoring 60 to 72 points. While SU’s zone will neutralize Virginia Tech’s scoring proficiency to an extent, Syracuse’s offense isn’t dynamic enough to go shot-for-shot with VT. The ball simply won’t drop for the Orange.
Key to the Game: Challenge Virginia Tech’s Jump Shots
Virginia Tech makes a higher percentage of their jump shots than any team in the NCAA (54.5 FG percent). However, the Hokies haven’t face a defense as unique and complex as SU’s 2-3 zone. If Syracuse can force the ball away from the paint defensively and lure Virginia Tech into shooting contested jumpers, the Orange will have a better chance of slowing down Virginia Tech’s sixth ranked scoring offense.
Prediction: Syracuse 69-61
Tyus Battle, SU’s main offensive threat, has played phenomenally this season. The sophomore’s scored 20 points or more in five out of Syracuse’s last seven games. Additionally, Virginia Tech has struggled to replicate its home dominance when the team travels to other venues. If Tyus Battle puts together his usual performance, expect to add another ‘W’ to the win column to close out 2017.