StLou's Previews: Syracuse Orange

Syracuse Orange

Virginia hits the road for its second matchup against Syracuse this season, having weathered a furious comeback attempt by the Orange a few weeks ago. Last year's trip to the Carrier Dome was a nightmare for Virginia; will this year's visit be an improvement?

Game Details:

Date/Time: Saturday, Feb 3rd, 4:00 PM Eastern
Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY
TV: ACCN (local affiliates), WatchESPN

What 'They' Say

Vegas: Virginia -5.5, O/U 114.5
TAPE: Ranks Syracuse #42, predicts a 62-52 UVA win, 80% confidence
KenPom: Ranks Syracuse #46, predicts a 54-48 UVA win, 71% confidence


Depth Chart:


PG #23 Frank Howard, 6-5 205, JR
37.7 mpg, 15 ppg, 5.2 apg, 35% 3P%
SG #25 Tyus Battle, 6-6 205, SO 
38.4 mpg, 19.7 ppg, 1.6 apg, 33% 3P% 
SF #11 Oshae Brissett, 6-8 210, FR 
38.1 mpg, 14.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 34% FG% 
PF #21 Marek Dolezaj, 6-9 180, FR 
23.6 mpg, 4.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 48% FG% 
C #13 Paschal Chukwu, 7-2 228, JR 
27.2 mpg, 6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.9 bpg 

Key Reserves


#2 Matthew Moyer, 6-8 215, SO
20.4 mpg, 4.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 55% FG%
C #35 Bourama Sidibe, 6-10 205, FR 
13.9 mpg, 3.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 64% FG% 


The ABC's of SU:

A) This is a really thin team, and getting thinner. With the season-ending injury to backup guard Howard Washington, the Orange's starting back court Howard, Battle, and Brissett are playing essentially every competitive minute. The 4 and 5 spots are the only positions with any rotation, but even that has question marks. At the 4, true freshman Euro import Dolezaj and RS Freshman (and Kyle Guy BFF) Moyer are splitting time, but Moyer is coming back from a high ankle sprain that limited him to only 2 minutes at Georgia Tech. The center spot is the only position with relief, where true freshman Sidibe is backing up former role player and Providence transfer Chukwu. KenPom has dropped them to dead last in terms of bench minutes played. The Zone allows them to rest to some degree, but Virginia should make them work at both ends.

B) The offense is really off track. Maybe it's a talent issue, maybe it's experience. But the Orange are really struggling to score this year. They're 12th in the ACC in scoring efficiency, 12th in effective FG%, 14th in committing turnovers and coughing up steals. None of their players are scary three point shooters, the best of them being Howard's 34.7%. Tyus Battle has been trying to single handedly carry this team, scoring in double figures in every ACC game, with a high of 37 in a 2OT loss to FSU. They're surviving on offensive rebounding (6th in the ACC, grabbed 19 against us last month) and drawing FTs (1st in the ACC, shot only 11 FTAs against us last time). Everyone of their guard/wing trio is looking to drive. The posts are mostly only threats on putback attempts.

C) The Syracuse Zone is back with a fury. For all of the Orange's struggles this year, the defense has not been one of them. Their zone works best when there's size and length at all 5 positions, and gone are the smaller guards like Trevor Cooney or John Gillon at the top. Instead, they run out two long guards in Howard (6-5) and Battle (6-6), have size on the wings with Brissett (6-8), Dolezaj (6-9), and Moyer (6-8); all anchored by the tallest center in Boeheim's history, Chukwu (7-2). Through 9 conference games, Cuse has the ACC's 2nd best defensive efficiency at 97.3, and is shutting teams down both inside (#1 in the ACC in 2P% D at 38.7%) and outside (#5 at 33.9%). They're forcing teams into turnovers at an above average rate as well. Allowing offensive rebounds has been the biggest weakness, 14th in the ACC. 

Their season to date:

Syracuse is 15-7 on the season, 4-5 in the ACC. Their best wins are over Maryland and Virginia Tech. They fattened their record by beating Pitt twice, and have struggled away from home, dropping games at Wake, FSU, UVA, and most recently Georgia Tech

Keys to getting the win:

1) Limit them to one shot. The Orange can't shoot. We covered that above. What's keeping them in games is their second chance offense; they're 6th in the ACC in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing just under a third of their misses (32.4%). They are sending all three of their forwards/centers to the glass hard on every shot, and all five guys who rotate in at the 3-5 spots have O-Reb percentages between 7.5% and 13.2% (anything above 8 is good, above 10 is great). Howard and Battle generally sprint back, but our forwards in this game better be prepared to not just body up, but also gain leverage for position. Hold them to one shot (should go without saying... without bailing them out and putting them on the FT line) and their offense will crack in a hurry. Despite our systemic success on the defensive glass, this is certainly an important focus area; we gave up 19 offensive rebounds to them in the last outing.

2) Attack in transition if at all reasonable. Not going to lie, that zone continues to scare me a little this year with Chukwu in the middle (Cuse scored 5 blocks as a team in the 1st game), especially if our mid-range jumpers aren't falling. So we should get down the floor and score before it sets up if at all possible. I don't think we're going to get a lot of transition opportunities off rebounds, because we're going to need all hands on deck to close out defensive possessions; dangerous to leak out a runner. But Cuse's ball-handling is sloppy, second to last in the ACC, including in giving up live ball steals. Given how effective our turnover generation has been this year (best in the ACC in both total turnovers and live ball steals), that means we should expect at least 7 or 8 live ball opportunities this game, and we should absolutely be running on those to get easy buckets before the zone sets up. With zero depth, Battle and Howard can't afford to get into foul trouble, so they should shy from aggression here. Getting about 10 points running off of turnovers could make a huge difference in a slow, grinding game.

3) Break down the zone with the midrange game. Beating the zone consistently requires working methodically through it. Yes we can, and should, shoot over it enough to force the wings and guards to honor Devon, Ty, and Kyle. But at the end of the day you have to get some shots in the paint, and that means trying to dissect the zone gaps. In the first game, we rotated big guards through the high post (a 2-3 zone's primary gap), and found success with each of Jerome, Hall, and Hunter. We've continued to use that systematic zone attack in games since, with some success, but also some weaknesses exploited. We've been at our most efficient when the center comes up to challenge, which either allows the ball-handler to drive by or, should we have one side effectively overloaded, kick to a cutter on the baseline or a shooter flaring to the wing. I'm expecting a large part of Cuse's game plan to be to dare us to shoot the 15-footer, leaving Chukwu home at the rim and the wings watching the corners. That means open mid-range shots, but that's not been a look we've been hitting consistently enough for my liking. Wilkins has seemingly lost all confidence in his jumper, so he cannot play that position for us. Hall, Hunter, and Jerome have to hit this rhythmically enough early on to force Cuse to abandon the strategy, and then we can start to use that position more as a distributor in the second half.


Cutting Legs And Ripping Hearts

Updated on February 2, 2018 by Seattle Hoo

Sharon Cox-Ponder for HOOS Place

Prediction: On the first offensive possession, Isaiah Wilkins is going to set up in the high post against the Syracuse zone, and Hoo fans all over the world are going to grab their hair and yell at their screens, "Get Hunter in there!"

I have no problem with seeing Isaiah go into the high post, but I do have three caveats about it:

1) I want him to be looking to set a back screen on one of the front defenders for dribble penetration by the ballhandler (or perhaps a cut by the weakside guard for a quick pass);

2) If he is going to catch a pass, he needs to be ready and intending to shoot the ball prior to the catch, and then take the shot without hesitating or looking to pass, and without any doubt whatsoever that he is going to make the shot; and

3) I really do not like starting a game at the Carrier Dome with jump shots.

Zay has to know, because everybody in Hoo Nation knows, that the first time he catches the ball in the middle of that zone, the defenders are going to stay where they are and invite him to shoot.  He wants to pass.  We all know it.  They all know it.  The defense is going to give him a free shot.  If he doesn't take it like he really wants it, I'm going to be joining those Hoo fans with fingers gouging out hair follicles.

If he takes and makes that first free throw line jumper, they might react to him next time he catches it in there, but I suspect they'll want to see him do it again. He's such a dangerous passer and we have such dangerous three-point shooters that they're going to want to see him demonstrate that he will hurt them with the jumper before they make a move.  If he hits a couple, then you are likely to see the center come off the baseline to challenge him, and that will open up driving and passing lanes to the rim.

It is unlikely after the experiences of the last few zone games that the plan will be to park Wilkins in the high post. Most likely we will see him as one of several people who will flash through it, a plan that has helped to promote player movement, which, as we have seen, is crucial to success against the zone.

But when Syracuse goes man-to-man ... that's right, we can safely omit that part of the analysis.  Syracuse does not go man-to-man.  If they did, I think the Tower of Sauron would crumble.

If Hunter is at near full strength, expect to see Wilkins get more minutes at the five than at the 4.  That means he will be matched up with Chukwu or Sidibe at the defensive end and it will be his responsibility to block the big man off the boards. Cuse hurt us with offensive rebounding last game because we too often let their perimeter players penetrate and the bigs over-helped, forcing rotations that were not quick enough to get a body between Chukwu and the glass - or if we did, not big enough or far enough from the basket to keep him from rebounding over the top.  Wilkins has a tendency to over-help and challenge some shots he shouldn't, but in this game maintaining boxout on Chukwu might be more of a priority.  It will be interesting to see what Bennett's defensive game plan is after what happened in the first game.

When Hunter is not in the game, Wilkins will be at the 4 and keeping Chukwu away from the backboard will be on SaltDiakite.  In the last game, Wilkins was primarily on Oshae Brissett, to me a curious choice by Bennett.  I would have had him on Matthew Moyer.  I would again.  Moyer is not a three point threat like Brissett.  He wants to do his damage sneaking into the paint on baseline drives or offensive rebounds.  Without that three-point threat, he is easier for Wilkins to guard. Brissett can be taken by a perimeter player.  If he comes into the paint, our bigs are there to help.

This is not a good matchup for Nigel Johnson, as all Cuse's players are at least 6-5.  So it's a good thing this game is part of his suspension.

Sharon Cox-Ponder for HOOS Place
Will this matchup decide the game?

Devon Hall could be the key player for this game.  On offense, he has the ideal blend of skills to kill the zone.  When he catches the ball on the wing, if he's coming off a screen, he should shoot, and if he's stationary, he should put it on the deck and drive into the gap, or swing the ball. Just because it's a zone doesn't mean we can't screen it, especially once we've seen how they are going to move in reaction to cuts and drives. In many ways, the second half of the Duke game was good practice for 'Cuse, because Duke played basically the way 'Cuse did against us, with the center laying back and the outer players tagging our shooters.  Devon flashing to the middle and driving into and through the zone can create a lot of opportunities.  So look for Devon running baseline into the corner for catch-and-shoot threes, and dribble attacking into the gaps from the wing.  He will be part of the high post parade where he has to be honored as a shooter and can also drive.

Syracuse is hurting.  They are down to basically 6 guys and the guards have to go 40 minutes.  They cannot win without a big game from Tyus Battle, who struggled badly against Devon's defense in the JPJ battle.  He did make a couple of big plays late, but overall, his 6-16, 0-7 from 3, 3 turnover game was not what 'Cuse needs.  Look for Virginia to be very aggressive with him early. Hall will have to be diligent about not giving him space to launch threes and rely on the help to keep him out of the lane.  If Battle hits an early three in that dome, it will make this game much more difficult.  Shut him down early, get in his grill, force him to venture into the teeth of the defense, and it will go a long way toward cutting his legs out of the late jumpers.



Shooting in the Dome is a weird thing. It's a strange venue (remember, it's a football venue first) with strange lighting and fan seating configurations. Those sorts of things play with shooters' depth perception, so I'm not overly optimistic we can punish Cuse by shooting from the high post gap. But I have a feeling we see Tony dial the ball pressure way up in this one. Force them to make contested passes and prey on that all day. I also expect our rebounding to be improved from last time... if we can hold Duke (who's a better rebounding team than Cuse) to only 12 offensive rebounds, we can do better on the Orange too. I think our defense, and the fast break offense it can create, carry the day.

Hoos Win - 65-53