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StLouHoo's Preview:

Juicing Oranges

Syracuse Orange

The #2 Virginia Cavaliers continue their march to the post-season with an invasion of the Carrier Dome, a football stadium resembling the Final Four environment, to face a Syracuse team that could crash the Final Four again. The Hoos are battling for their second consecutive ACC Regular Season Championship and #1 seed in the ACC Tournament. Two wins will clinch both - and most likely an NCAA Tournament 1 seed as well. The Big Three of De'Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome have come through for the Hoos, averaging 42.6 ppg in ACC competition and taking turns with big halves.

The Syracuse Orange are #32 in Kenpom and currently in sixth place in the ACC with a 10-6 conference record. Their big three of Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett and Elijah Hughes have averaged 42.6 ppg in ACC competition, although without the hyper efficiency of their Virginia counterparts.

Syracuse has scored double-digit wins over decent ACC teams, and suffered double-digit losses to good ACC teams. They beat Duke in Cameron (sans Tre Jones and Cam Reddish) and Louisville by 20 here, but they have lost to Virginia Tech by 22, Florida State by 18, NC State by 15, Georgia Tech by 14, Duke by 10 and North Carolina by 8.

Game Details:

Date/Time:Monday, March 4th, 7:00 pm ET
Location:Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY
TV:ESPN

 

What 'They' Say

Vegas:UVA -6.5, O/U 123
TAPE:63-54 UVA win, 80% confidence
KenPom:64-56 UVA win, 76% confidence

 

Depth Chart:

Starters
PG#23 Franklin Howard, 6-5 205, SR
8.1 Pts, 2.0 Reb, 3.1 Ast
SG#25 Tyus Battle, 6-6 205, JR
17.7 Pts, 3.3 Reb, 2.5 Ast
SF#33 Elijah Hughes, 6-6 215, JR
13.9 Pts, 4.5 Reb, 1.5 Ast
PF#11 Oshae Brissett, 6-8 210, SO
12.8 Pts, 7.6 Reb, 1.8 Ast
C#13 Paschal Chukwu, 7-2 228, SR
4.2 Pts, 5.4 Reb, 0.2 Ast
Key Reserves
F#21 Marek Dolezaj, 6-10 180, SO
4.3 Pts, 3.6 Reb, 1.7 Ast
G#35 Buddy Boeheim, 6-5 188, FR
5.9 Pts, 1.4 Reb, 0.9 Ast

 

The ABC's of Syracuse:

A) Syracuse is the same team every year. You could take the scouting report to any Syracuse game since they joined the league, change the names and numbers, and it would be accurate. The Orange never change. They play that 2-3 zone. They rely on Heroball. They only play 6.5 players. They force a lot of turnovers. They turn it over a lot. They are like yeast - they don't go away. And if you remain focused and analytical, once you figure out the key to unlocking the zone, you then only have to handle their pressure defense well to score a convincing win.

B) Tyus Battle and Marek Dolejaz are two of my favorite non-Hoo ACC players. Battle is one of the more aptly-named ballers, as he will tie you up in a battle of wills all game long. He's a resolute player who can get hot and go for 35, sticking jumpers from Tyland in your face or careering to the rim. He's a big guard at 6-6 and long and he can swallow you up in the zone. He went off for 32 against Duke, 31 versus BC, 29 at UNC and 23 against Florida State.

Meanwhile, Dolejaz is a Huffian twig who will dive on the floor and slither through cracks in the defense for the ball. He can put it in the basket and block a few shots, but his main thing is getting to the ball. When Chukwu gets in foul trouble, Dolejaz anchors the middle of the zone. And he took the most famous charge of the season.

Syracuse will not win without big games from these two. Only Battle has the scoring chops to power the Orange attack against The Virginia Defense. If he doesn't top 20, they don't top 50. Frank Howard, Oshae Brissett and Elijah Hughes are all capable of putting up 25, but also of giving the ball away 5 times and missing 20 shots. Dolejaz will have to contend with De'Andre Hunter in the middle of the zone.

C) Paschal Chukwu and Oshae Brissett are struggling this year. Brissett's offensive efficiency rating is down from 103 to 97. That means two of Syracuse's three alpha scorers are under 100 in ORtg. Chukwu has seen upticks in his shooting and rebounding stats, but his fouls committed rate has jumped. He committed 4.6 fouls/40 minutes last season, and is up to 5.9 this year - 6.5 FC/40 in 'A' games. Go at him with the ball, and box him out on both ends with our bigs, and he can be goaded into fouling himself to the bench. Dolejaz has done a good job of filling in, but is not nearly as imposing under the rim.

 

Their Season To Date

The Orange are 19-10 overall and 10-6 in the ACC. If the season ended today, they would be the #6 seed in the ACC Tournament and a member of the 64-team NCAA Tournament field. They are #32 in Kenpom's AdjEM. They beat Duke in Cameron, but lost to the Blue Devils in the Carrier Dome and to the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill.

 

Keys to getting the win:

1) Patience, Analysis, Execution. The Syracuse Zone is unique, but in the end it is still a zone. The key changes from game to game, and sometimes within a game as Coach Jim Boeheim makes adjustments, but there is a key, and when you find it, you can unlock the zone and walk away with Syracuse's treasure. It takes patience to avoid putting up those tempting threes and instead probe the zone with passes and dribbles to see how it reacts.

You cannot assume what they will do when you get the ball in certain places, because Boeheim's staff scouts the opposition and institutes tweaks to customize the zone for the opponent. Blithely attack it the way you would any 2-3 and you are going to commit a bunch of turnovers.

When you do figure out what the zone will do and how you can attack it, do that. Just do that every time. Then expect Boeheim to tweak the zone at the next time out to take that away. Figure out the new key, then use it until it expires.

2) Hit the offensive boards. The Orange block a lot of shots and force a lot of turnovers, but if you get inside the zone you can draw fouls and get second chance shots. They are worst in the conference at giving up offensive rebounds, and 12th in defensive free throw rate.

The Hoos are ill-equipped to exploit the free throw rate (#14 in the ACC in FTr), but should be able to do well on the boards, as they are having one of Bennett's stronger years in offensive rebounding. The Hoos are seventh in the ACC in OR% at 30.4%.

Hunter in the middle with Salt, Diakite, Huff and Key on the baseline should mean a lot of offensive rebounding opportunities. The presence of Guy and Jerome on the perimeter means gaps in the zone. The Hoos can use those gaps to force local mismatches and lots of putbacks.

3) The Strength of the Pack. Syracuse is a pretty good three-point shooting team overall (5th in the ACC at 34%), but they do best off drive-and-kick and transition opportunities. So close the gaps with good perimeter help and get good boxouts. Force them to be patient and they will turn the ball over by trying to do too much. They also will force a lot of shots, as their perimeter players all like to employ Uzis on full auto. Stay between them and the basket, get a hand in the face of shooters, and they will be challenged to make 50.

 

 

Predictions:

Conventional analysis would say that the home team needs this game more, and Syracuse is tough in the Carrier Dome. But the truth is that both teams are in the same place: safely in the NCAA Tournament and just jockeying for position. Virginia has done as well in Syracuse as in Charlottesville. This Virginia team thrives on the challenges of the road, and feeds on the hostile energy of the home crowd. The intangibles, to the extent they matter, are very strong for Virginia.

This is a game without a clear role for Kihei Clark. Expect a Salt-Diakite-Hunter-Guy-Jerome starting lineup. All of Syracuse's guards are big, and they don't really run an offense you can disrupt by pressuring a point guard. Against the zone, Kihei will struggle with the length of the Syracuse players, and trapping is a real danger to him.

Expect this game to follow the usual pattern against Syracuse: slow rolling early, then steadily gaining momentum. Expect Virginia to be patient tonight, and that means inside-out on the offensive end. Attack the paint, compress the zone, then bomb away. Syracuse starts out hot from the arc, but the legs get tired in the second half, and the brains get tired, and the Orange see their shooting percentage plummet, along with their chances of victory.

Hoos Win 66-52