The No. 2 Virginia Cavaliers have a quick turn, playing tonight at the Syracuse Orange after taking out Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon. The Hoos are hoping to become the second Virginia team to win in the Carrier Dome in three days after the men’s lacrosse team used a 4th quarter comeback to take down Cuse in overtime.
Hopefully things won’t be that stressful tonight. Virginia and Syracuse tip off at 7pm on ESPN as a part of Big Monday, and in order to get better prepared, we chatted with James Szuba (@JamesSzuba) at Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician.
You can check out my answers to his questions here.
Streaking the Lawn: Oh, Syracuse. Tell me who this team is. What on earth do you expect from them this season?
Nunes Magician: Your guess is as good as mine. We’ve seen Syracuse play some of its best basketball against its best competition (See: Duke, UNC) and some of its worst basketball against lesser opponents (See: Old Dominion, Georgia Tech). But I do think this team is rounding into form and playing some of its best basketball of the season right now. Despite recent losses to Duke and UNC, SU played well through those games and just dominated Wake on Saturday which was more-so the way the team played than the opponent it beat.
I think Syracuse is going to be a factor in March and a tough out for any opponent. I won’t make any wild NCAA Tournament predictions as I won’t be surprised if this team is out the first weekend or makes an Elite 8, but I do know that no team wants to see that 2-3 zone in the tournament.
STL: Tyus Battle is still the straw that stirs the drink on offense, but who is the next biggest threat for the Orange?
NM: I think the next best consistent threat would have to be Elijah Hughes the way he shoots the ball, but Oshae Brissett would be that guy if he was more steady this season. When Brissett focuses on rebounding and getting to the rim he’s really good. When he does those two things and stays aggressive he’s at his best.
STL: No one for Cuse is shooting better than 36% from three (except Dolezaj who has only taken 23). As the Pack Line is predicated on forcing long, contested shots, how do you feel about the Cuse offense against the Virginia defense?
NM: Syracuse has shot it way better in the ACC mostly due to Buddy Boeheim’s emergence and the fact that Syracuse was just a really bad shooting team in the non-conference and couldn’t get much worse. Frank Howard has shot it better in conference play too as it took a while for him to round into form. He’s not totally back as he doesn’t have the same explosiveness he had last year following his injury -- but he’s molded himself into a shooter to be effective. As for the pack line? I do think that’s going to give Syracuse a ton of trouble. I expect a lot of Tyus Battle one-on-one play.
STL: Speaking of Dolezaj, he hasn’t scored more than 10 points in a game this season but seems to be the heart and soul of this team. What is it about him that makes him such an asset?
NM: I think Dolezaj gives this team a lot of energy as nobody has ever had to question his effort. The way he plays is contagious -- he’ll give you everything he has which shows itself through his willingness to take charges, dive on the ground for loose balls and hustle to the offensive and defensive glass.
STL: Talk to me about the zone this year. On the surface, this lineup should be a nightmare for folks going against the zone with the length and athleticism Boeheim has. What’s your assessment of the defense so far this season?
NM: The defense has been mostly good this season and it has been better as of late. Syracuse is first in the ACC and No. 13 in the country in defensive turnover percentage. But certain teams like Virginia Tech and North Carolina are built to beat a 2-3 zone, which is where the defense has had its lapses along with center play. The center spot has been the most inconsistent part of the zone this season, but when Paschal Chukwu is playing well the defense is hard to beat.
It does seem susceptible to having one player go off for a career high. As Bobby Knight had said, if you play man, you get to choose who guards my best player. If you play zone, I get to chose who guards my best player.
STL: Ok, prediction time. How does this go? Who wins, final score, and how does it happen?
NM: Virginia comes into the Dome, Jack Salt sets some incredible screens, Guy and Jerome knock down tough shots and Syracuse fans get irrationally mad at Diakite for his hair, probably. Deandre Hunter is the difference maker on both ends and Jay Huff does things.
The Orange put up a very good defensive effort, but come up short and lose in a low scoring 65-60 game.