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The Big Preview: Virginia’s ACC Tournament begins against Syracuse

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Hoos and Orange get a rematch, this time in Greensboro.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Virginia Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Many Virginia fans likely breathed a sigh of relief following Syracuse’s win over NC State in the No. 8 vs. No. 9 game at the ACC Tournament. After all, Virginia fell to NC State at JPJ just two weeks ago, and the Hoos took care of Syracuse by 23 points at home at the end of January.

But this same Syracuse team that Virginia held to 58 points just scored 89 against the Wolfpack, knocking down 14-of-29 three pointers. If the Orange shoot like that, they’ll beat Virginia. Heck, if they shoot like that, the might knock off Gonzaga, too. Keep in mind, however, that NC State was terrible at defending the three point line all year (271st nationally).

That three point shooting barrage was led by Buddy Boeheim, who scored 27 points on 10-for-16 shooting (6-for-12 from three).

Boeheim wasn’t only knocking down outside shots. He showed off his ability to generate points off the dribble as well.

That dribble drive and finish won’t be as easy against Virginia and the Pack Line, and that three pointer came off an offensive rebound, with Syracuse pulling down 11 offensive boards (over 40% of their own misses). Those also won’t come as easily against Virginia. The Orange had just four offensive boards last time out (10% of their misses).

Boehiem did not have a good game last time against the Hoos, scoring just nine points on 4-for-12 shooting (1-for-7 from downtown). But we’ve seen Virginia struggle this year against guys who can knock down shots, and Boeheim is certainly that. Reece Beekman was on Boeheim for much of the game last time, which isn’t surprising as Beekman is the best perimeter defender on the team.

The difference in that first matchup was that Virginia knocked down shots (14-for-31, 45% from three) and Syracuse did not (5-for-23, 21%). Syracuse is actually quite good at defending the three this year, ranking 67th nationally at just under 32% (the Hoos rank 185th, at 34%).

Syracuse knows the Hoos want to get the ball into the middle of the zone. So the top-of-the-zone defender drops down to prevent the pass to Kihei in the middle. That gives Hauser enough room to get off a deep three. We know he has NBA range and that’s too much space for him to miss.

By the way, here is what happens when Clark is able to get the ball in the middle.

Also this.

Clark is too good of a passer, and he can also knock down that 15 footer. The Hoos will also use both Hauser and Huff in the middle.

As you can see, it’s not quite as difficult to get the pass in to Huff. At 7’1, you just throw it up and let him get it. His height helps him survey the court, finding Hauser open in the corner. Hauser feasted on the Syracuse zone, repeatedly finding open spaces and knocking down shots. He was 7-for-13 from three, finishing with 21 points.

Those shooting numbers from last time could easily turn around. Syracuse doesn’t actually shoot the ball very well, ranking just 170th (33.7%), whereas Virginia is one of the best shooting teams in the country, ranking 12th (38.6%). Generally speaking, good shooting teams do well against zone defenses, and we all know about Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. But Syracuse’s top two shooters (Boeheim and Illinois transfer Alan Griffin) are not likely to shoot 2-for-12 from downtown again.

Tony Bennett’s teams have had tons of success against that 2-3 zone. The issues against Syracuse have mostly come when they extend their defense and run their full-court press. Virginia has struggled several times when that happens, including one very disappointing game in 2016. That press is something Jim Boeheim only uses when he is desperate. He probably doesn’t have the horses to keep it up for 40 minutes. As usual, Syracuse does not use a deep rotation, so the starters play a ton of minutes (fourth from last nationally in bench minutes). The Orange like to run, they have one of the fastest offenses in the nation.

Virginia may have beat up on Syracuse the last time out, but this Cuse team is better than that performance. The Cavaliers haven’t shot lights out like that since the UNC game almost a month ago, and they are coming off their worst shooting performance of the season (just 3-for-15 against Louisville). If they shoot like that again, and Syracuse improves their shooting even a little bit, this all of a sudden is a much closer game. Teams that shoot 20% from three against the zone do not come out on top.