Game Preview: Syracuse takes on #3 Virginia on the road

Opponent: Virginia Cavaliers

Location: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA

Date: Tuesday, January 9

Time: 8:00pm ET

Watch: ACC Network or WatchESPN app

Line: Syracuse +9

Virginia has quickly turned into the #3 team in the country

Many believed that Virginia 14-1 (3-0) would have a “down” year this season after losing senior leader and leading scorer London Perrantes. The media picked the Cavaliers to finish sixth in the ACC and most didn’t think they could compete with the top teams in the conference. Virginia started the season on a strong note by winning the Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden. The Cavaliers defeated Vanderbilt by 26 and Rhode Island by 15 to win the tournament. In their most impressive defensive performance of the season, Virginia held Wisconsin to 37 total points in a home win in late November.

The Cavaliers one loss came on the road 68-61 to a very good West Virginia team. It’s extremely difficult to go into Morgantown and get a win, especially against this year’s Mountaineers that are ranked #2 in the country.

They squeaked out a home win against Boston College by 1 to start conference play. The Cavaliers have proved they belong with the country’s elite their past two games. They completely dismantled in-state foe Virginia Tech on the road and followed it up with an impressive win against North Carolina in which they held the Tar Heels to 49 points.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams had this to say after the game, “It was a big ole butt kicking. That’s all it was. Their defense was a million times better than our offense.”

Virginia now sits at 3-0 in the ACC is ranked #3 in the nation.

Top Players

Sophomore guard Kyle Guy (pictured below) has emerged as the Cavaliers top scoring threat with 14.9 points per contest, nearly double his scoring average last season. He scored 29 points against VCU back in November. Senior guard Devon Hall is Virginia’s most well rounded player averaging 11.6 points, 4 rebounds and 3.1 assists. Sophomore guard Ty Jerome is a dangerous scorer as well. He dropped 31 points on Boston College and averages 9.8 points. All three of these guys can shoot from long range as they’ve combined to make 93 three pointers on 45.1% shooting from beyond the arch. Jerome is 7th in the ACC shooting at a 46% clip.

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Strengths and Weaknesses

Virginia’s biggest strength is their defense. They lead the country in scoring defense at 52.5 points per game. The Cavaliers have held opponents to under 50 points in 7 games this season which is unheard of. In possibly their most impressive defensive performance of the year, Virginia held Virginia Tech to only 52 points, 34 points below their season average. Virginia also takes care of the better than most teams in college basketball. They lead the country in fewest turnovers per game, 9.1, and are eighth in the nation in turnover margin at 5.3. Virginia is so good because they play stingy defense and don’t make many mistakes.

It’s almost comical to say this after Syracuse’s horrible performance on the boards against Notre Dame but one area the Orange might be able to take advantage of is rebounding. The Cavaliers are an average rebounding team and don’t have a huge frontline that will overpowering Syracuse. Virginia is 119th in rebounding margin at 2.6.

Head Coach

Tony Bennett started as the head coach at Virginia in 2009. He is in his ninth season with the Cavaliers and is 202-84 all-time at the school. He’s led them to the tournament the last 4 seasons and Elite Eight appearances in 2015 and 2016. Bennett was named ACC Coach of the Year in 2014 and 2015.

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Syracuse vs. Virginia All-Time Series

The Orange leads the all-time series 5-4. The teams faced off for the first time in the Sweet Sixteen of the 1984 NCAA Tournament. Virginia won the game 63-55 behind 17 points from Othell Wilson. Most recently, Syracuse defeated #9 Virginia at the Carrier Dome. Tyus Battle led the Orange with 23 points.

But we all know our favorite Virginia game. 2016. Elite Eight. Malachi Richardson. Enough said.

Malachi Richardson (photo courtesy of LA Times)

Bennett is 3-2 vs. Syracuse all-time and Boeheim is 5-4 in his career against Virginia.

Prediction

Virginia wins 62-50. For the record, I’m 0-2 on predictions thus far…

Quick Hits

Virginia is ranked #2 in the RPI and Syracuse is now ranked #31

Tony Bennett was named National Coach of the Year in 2007 when he was the head coach at Washington State

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