TONIGHT IS THE NIGHT! Virginia kicks off the 2019-20 season tonight as they hit the road at Syracuse. Yes, you read that right...there’s an ACC game right off the bat. The reigning national champion Cavaliers are getting a test right away as they will have to deal with Elijah Hughes and the Orange zone defense.
We reached out to our friends at Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician to find out some more about the Orange this season. We chatted with Kevin Wall, and you can read my answers to his questions here.
Streaking the Lawn: There is a fair amount of turnover for the Orange, but you return some key pieces. Who do you think will be the biggest factor on each side of the ball this season?
Nunes Magician: Offensively, it’s Elijah Hughes who steps into the featured scorer role. Last year he was more of a spot-up shooter but in the two exhibition games he was doing some ball-handling and will be called upon to be the guy Syracuse looks to in key situations. Bourama Sidibe steps into the starting center position and he’ll need to anchor the 2-3 zone and help the Orange improve their defensive rebounding which has been pretty poor recently.
STL: Defensively, how do you like this roster to fit into the zone? ARE YOU GOING TO PLAY MAN?!
NM: If Syracuse plays man it’s going to be out of desperation. Boeheim hinted at man to man over the summer but after games in Italy he seemed to back away from that idea. Now this roster is deeper so you might see more full-court press but otherwise it’s more of that zone. The challenge will be integrating several new players into the rotation so expect it to take some time to see the zone playing at a really high level. The starting line-up is big- Jalen Carey at 6’3 is the smallest starter and with the 3-point line moving back expect Syracuse to extend out to try and force most teams to beat them from distance.
STL: The last time Virginia played at Syracuse, the Cavaliers put on a three-point clinic. With Virginia’s departures, the power has shifted to the front court. How do you see the zone matching up to a new-look Virginia offense?
NM: This is the great unknown. I think this Syracuse team’s weakness is interior defense so this will be an interesting test for the Orange. Can they keep Diakite and Huff away from the basket? I’d expect the forwards to try and play a bit closer to the basket on Wednesday evening so if Virginia can make some open shots early that will force the Orange to adjust. If Sidibe gets in foul trouble then we’ll probably see Marek Dolezaj at the 5 which makes Syracuse even more vulnerable to a strong inside game.
STL: PACK LINE BACK. The three-point line is further back, and the pack line is still the pack line. Do you have any concerns on Syracuse’s ability to score on the Hoos Wednesday night?
NM: This Syracuse team wants to push the pace and take a lot of 3s. Now can they rebound Virginia’s misses to get out and run? If not, can Jalen Carey and Hughes break down the Hoos defense to create open looks for Buddy Boeheim? Turnovers were an issue in the exhibition games and with Braxton Key liking taking the Hughes assignment it’s going to fall on freshman Quincy Guerrier to make some plays on the offensive end. While the Orange might be worse defensively with Dolezaj at the 5, his ability to initiate offense from the high post might be an advantage on that end of the floor.
STL: What’s your feeling on opening with a conference game, especially when it’s the reigning National Champions?
NM: Both Syracuse football and basketball got to open the ACC hosting the reigning National Champions and we certainly hope this matchup goes better. I do think it’s an advantage to get Virginia early due to the roster turnover as it gives the Orange a better chance at getting a win. With the way the football season has gone, an upset win would be a nice way to welcome our first snowfall.
STL: Ok, how does this one go?
NM: Syracuse struggles against the Virginia defense early and turnovers allow the Cavs to control the pace. The Orange battle back in the second half thanks to some 3-pt shots but in the end Virginia gets some key offensive rebounds and escapes with a slim victory (around 5 points) behind a D3 (Diakite Double-Double).
Huge thanks to Kevin and Nunes Magician for all their help! Head on over to their site for great pregame coverage, and don’t forget to tune in tonight at 9pm on the ACC Network.