Saturday features a whole glut of Virginia-Syracuse showdowns: men's tennis, men's lacrosse, and oh yea, that basketball game of some consequence is happening as well. John Cassillo from Syracuse's Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician blog answered our questions about Cuse. Swing by TNIAAM for our answers to their questions!
TNIAAM: C.J. isn't always a consistent scorer, but when he's firing on all cylinders (as he was earlier against Maryland on Monday), this offense really is much prettier to watch. Ennis is sometimes hesitant to create his own shot, but can put that aside if called upon (see: his now-famous late-game heroics). While both are important, I think the nod goes to Fair, though. He can and does create for himself, and also makes Tyler's job easier on the offensive end. Can't say there's the same reliance going the other way, however.
STL: Who ASIDE from Fair and Ennis is the most important player on this year's team?
TNIAAM: Probably Jerami Grant. C.J. is mostly a finesse guy who avoids contact much of the time. But Grant is our bruiser at the 4, and gets absolutely punished for it. As you saw without him in the second half against Maryland, this offense just isn't the same without him, and neither is the defense. He's an aggressive offensive rebounder and can put it back with the best of them. The key to his effectiveness will be how his back's feeling after he tweaked it last week.
STL: Jerami Grant has been saying he'll play on Saturday. What's the latest, and what do you expect?
TNIAAM: See above. Grant's been practicing, and that's a positive sign. He's a tough competitor and understands how necessary he is to Syracuse's success. We don't really have enough depth to go without him or use him in limited minutes, so I'd expect to see all of Grant on Saturday. Within the first few minutes, we'll know just how explosive he can be, and that's likely to have a big impact on the overall tone of the game for the Orange.
STL: What's gone wrong the last week/ten days, and has it been fixed?
TNIAAM: At this point, it's nearly a month of issues. Since we beat Duke on February 1, the offense's efficiency has dropped considerably (hence why pace is now coming into a larger focus for our critics than it did before), and there's a variety of reasons for that. The loss of Dajuan Coleman has us pretty much relying on a six-man rotation since January, and when Bay Keita missed several games with an injury recently, that really stretched this group to the brink. Add in Grant's recent back troubles and some intermittent foul trouble for our shallow group of big men, and there you go... a team that's under-manned and completely gassed from having played about 40 minutes each night. The injuries have taken their toll at this point, so I don't know if things are "fixed." But hitting shots (which we haven't been) certainly helps push things in our favor.
STL: You're close to the end of your first run through ACC play. Which opponent do you least want to face again in the tournament?
TNIAAM: Guess that depends on how Saturday goes, doesn't it? While Duke was a brawl both times, I'd love to face them every night. So to me, the answer's likely Pittsburgh. They're more familiar with the 2-3 zone than the rest of the ACC (outside of Notre Dame too, of course), and that familiarity and two straight close losses to SU can't spell good things for the Orange. While you may hear a narrative of "Pitt owning the zone" if we face the Panthers in the ACC Tourney, we've actually beaten them in four of the last five, for what that's worth...
STL: OBLIGATORY VIRGINIA-SYRACUSE LACROSSE QUESTION. Normally the #22 is reserved for a leader and standout player (Gait brothers, Powell brothers, JoJo Marasco, etc.). This year a freshman wears it. Why does Jordan Evans deserve it and has he lived up to the hype?
TNIAAM: I'm not going to bash a 19-year old kid for failing to live up to the pressures of the sport's most historic number just three games into his career. But at the same time, if wearing it is part of your bargaining chip for coming the SU, you should deliver pretty quickly. Again, it's still very early. But if he's going to keep the number 22 (and I'd hate to see the fallout if he doesn't going into next year), then there's an expectation that you're going to be the team's foremost talent and leader. He doesn't need the Gait and Powell personality, necessarily. Just the execution needs to be there.
STL: Which Virginia player scares you the most, on either end of the floor?
TNIAAM: All the talk's usually about Joe Harris (even my own), but to be honest, I'm more concerned with Malcolm Brogdon. He's big for a guard, shoots the ball well, gets to the line and rebounds well (all while picking up very few fouls). This is the type of guy that's tortured Syracuse's zone over the years. If Brogdon can get going from inside and open up his teammates on the perimeter, we're screwed. On defense, he'll also do a better job than most of helping contain Ennis and Travor Cooney. Guard play's a big part of our success, so shutting them down would be a critical hit to SU.
STL: Why do you hate Georgetown so much?
TNIAAM: ESPN's covering this on 30 for 30 in a couple weeks. But I'll just direct you to this moment as the reason any and every Syracuse fan worth a dime hates Georgetown (look away, fellow Orange fans!). We've gotten our revenge and then some, however.
STL: Bottom line for Saturday: Who ya got?
TNIAAM: Oh, man... would I be a huge homer to pick Syracuse? I want to so badly, but the Orange just aren't playing all that well lately. Offensively, we're missing easy shots, and defensively, it seems like we're picking up more fouls and missing out on more rebounds. It's going to be a very close game (I know neither team plays with all that quick of a pace), but I see Virginia pretty much locking up the ACC regular season with a 61-59 win. You have to hit shots to win even the ugliest games. And I just haven't seen much from SU to indicate they can do that.