As soon as Virginia knocked off Iowa State and UVA fans took a break from celebrating, all orange-and-blue eyes turned to the late game in Chicago. The nip-and-tuck affair between Syracuse and Gonzaga ended with an Orange win, setting up an All-ACC showdown in the Midwest regional finals.
Here are three things the Hoos need to do to get past Syracuse and punch their ticket to the Final Four:
1. Share the ball
While the conventional wisdom for busting Cuse's 2-3 zone is to shoot over the top of it, the 2015-16 Orange are susceptible to being passed through: Syracuse is 349th out of 351 Division I teams in allowing assists per made FG attempt. There is a strong trend showing assists = success. Dayton and Middle Tennessee State had 11 and 8 assists, respectively; Syracuse won those games by an average of 22 points. Gonzaga notched 18 assists, and came within seconds of beating the Orange. When SU lost 5 of 6 to close the regular season and ACC tournament, the opponents who beat them averaged more than 17 assists per game.
This plays right into one of Virginia's strengths. The Hoos are 75th in assist rate, averaging 4 percentage points higher than the D1 average. Assists powered the big win over Iowa State, as UVA had assists on 26 of their 32 made buckets. When Virginia topped Syracuse in the regular season, it was 18 assists on 25 made shots—an assist rate of a blistering 72 percent.
2. Take care of the ball
All of the passing for those assists, though, has to come against one of the nation's best teams at getting steals. Like so many successful Jim Boeheim teams of the past, this year's Orange squad features four starters at 6'6 or better who are always looking to jump passing lanes. Only three teams in the field had better steal rates than Syracuse, and none did it while fouling as infrequently as Syracuse does.
Virginia's turnover rate is one of the best in the country on offense (13th, according to KenPom), but the Hoos are a bit more average when it comes to giving away steals (165th). London Perrantes had an uncharacteristically sloppy game the last time these two teams met, giving up 7 turnovers. Virginia's floor general returning to form will be a major key for a Cavalier victory.
3. Crash the glass
Every defense has its weakness, and the 2-3 zone's is offensive rebounding. But the 2016 version of Syracuse is particularly bad at it: Boeheim's squads haven't given up offensive rebounds at the rate they are this year since the 2011-12 season. Gonzaga snagged a full 40 percent of their offensive misses on Friday night, with Domantas Sabonis grabbing 7 offensive boards himself.
The Hoos didn't press this advantage very hard when they beat Syracuse back in January, focusing more on shutting off SU's transition looks. But the "reckless abandon" Mike Tobey who has emerged of late, along with Anthony Gill's rebounding resurgence, gives Virginia two very solid options to control the glass against the Orange.