'Hoos Do Enough on Offense, Clamp Down on 'D' to Beat 'Cuse. In Other Words, Business as Usual.

Game Highlights

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Last season in the Carrier Dome, Virginia tied a school record and hit 18 3-pointers, crushing Syracuse by 26 points. On Wednesday night, the Cavaliers made just four. But it didn't matter. The defending NCAA champions are 1-0 after coming away with another double-digit win in the Dome, 48-34.

Coming off of an NCAA title and with the Big Three all in the NBA, this matchup still didn't end up unfolding that much differently than a typical Virginia game at Syracuse. The offenses struggled early. UVa probed the zone then took a big lead. The Orange clawed back, but the Wahoos pulled away late. The Packline was terrific. Jim Boeheim gave a quick blow-by handshake to Tony Bennett. It followed the usual script.

Mind you, Virginia played some ugly offense at times. The offense shot just 40.8 percent from the field (20 of 49), including 16 percent (4 of 25) on 3s. It's going to take some time for the offense to find itself. But the Syracuse 2-3 zone on the road is a tough first assignment for any offense, much less one that lost about 75 percent of its scoring. UVa had 16 turnovers, but 10 of those came in the first half. The defense and rebounding (47-28 in Virginia's favor) looked as good as advertised. According to Bennett Conlin of The Daily Progress, Syracuse scored its fewest points since 1945. That registers as no shock for a Bennett squad.

The offense's strength is down low. Once the Cavaliers committed to getting the ball into the teeth of the zone more, the offense opened up. Mamadi Diakite led the team with 12 points, 11 rebounds, and two blocks. He hit a few jumpers and made some shots around the rim. At least once, he made a very good move from the high post to get to the rim. He displayed good aggressiveness, and I'd encourage him to be even nastier. He wasn't the only Wahoo to snag a double-double, though. In fact, two others did. Jay Huff was one, as he was the first man off the bench (though he did start the second half), but he got a lot of playing time and made the most of it, recording 11 points and 12 rebounds. He didn't take any 3s and spent just about all of his time in the paint. There were a couple of times where I thought he passed up makeable shots in the paint to try to pass the ball, and he ended up with two turnovers. Whether he starts a lot this season or is the sixth man, it seems as though he is sure to get plenty of minutes. It's up to him to make the most of his time. An assertive Huff is a better one. He kind of reminds me of Mike Tobey in that way. I was taking notes during the game, and in the first half, I wrote, "Get mean Huff!" There was a moment in the second half when Huff showed nice hustle and chased down a rebound and then got fouled. It was great to see him get to work on the boards, something that will keep him on the floor for longer periods of time.

The last Cavalier to get a double-double was not Braxton Key, though he was his usual solid self with seven points, 10 boards, two assists, two steals, and a block. It was Kihei Clark. Somehow, the 5-foot-6 Clark finished with 11 rebounds and added 10 points. And let me tell you, this team is going to be just fine with the little man as a leader. You can just see it. Clark was also just three assists shy of a triple-double, finishing with seven.

And with Clark and Casey Morsell out at the top of the defense, goodness. Good luck to the ACC offenses. Virginia's going to have lots of people in lockdown mode. Again. Morsell started and looked like he wanted to be an alpha dog in the offense, taking six shots, all 3s, but he made just one. But he looked like one of the most aggressive players early when Virginia was really struggling on offense. He had a good look about him, and he was covering Elijah Hughes for stretches, perhaps Syracuse's best offensive player. His on-ball defense is going to be superb at times.

It will be fun to watch Diakite, Key, and Huff work down low. On one occasion, Diakite executed a deft touch pass to Huff for a lay-up after catching a pass in midair. On another play, Diakite went up for a putback on a miss, missed himself, but Key was there to clean up on the other side of the rim and score two points.

The perimeter offense will come I think, but it will take time. Morsell will shoot plenty of 3s, and I bet he will make his fair share eventually. At one point, with the shot clock running down, Morsell shot a deep 3 from the corner, and for a moment, I had a flashback thinking it was Kyle Guy and the shot would have a good chance, but Morsell missed it badly. It's going to be weird seeing different guys, and not Guy, Ty Jerome, and De'Andre Hunter shoot from deep. Clark was not afraid to bomb away either, and he made 2 of 7. Hopefully he can inch closer to being a 40 percent 3-point shooter. He finished at 34.1 percent last season, but in the tournament, he was at 41.2 percent, so it's possible, though his volume will go way up. Tomas Woldetensae got the surprise start but only played 13 minutes. He didn't score and attempted three 3s. There was a sequence in which he dove on the floor for a loose ball. He ended up getting called for a foul, but the effort was there. Kody Stattmann came off the bench and scored five points, going 1 for 3 beyond the arc. It was great to see one go in for him after he struggled on 3s last season in his limited playing time.

All in all, it was a good outing, one with which UVa fans should be pleased. There's plenty to criticize on offense, but it was a comfortable victory. That feeling has become familiar for Virginia fans over the past several seasons. It wasn't perfect, but it worked, and the potential is there for this team to be even better, and we know it will develop, because Bennett is one of the nation's finest coaches. It wasn't surprising that the offense struggled against the zone in that big dome with its weird sightlines. It'll take time for the offense to find its legs, and the upcoming schedule -- full of cupcakes -- will help with that. It wasn't surprising the defense was that good, but every year, it seems to almost get better. Diakite, Key, and Clark are seriously awesome defenders, and new guys like Morsell and Woldetensae look like they are eager to step up and ready to defend. I definitely was not ready to call for a Virginia victory in this matchup, and yet, the 'Hoos won, and won easily. Without the Big Three. By 14. At Syracuse. On opening night. Like Clark said after the game, the players have moved on from last season. This is a new era. This set of Cavaliers wants to defend the crown.

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