The Syracuse and Virginia Tech basketball teams are having two completely different seasons. But, tonight, the Orange and the Hokies share the same court.
Here are three things Syracuse can do to increase its chances of getting its first road ACC win this year:
Play the Usual Zone Defense, but Stay Closer to Each Man
Coach Boeheim said it straight in the press conference following SU’s win over Miami on Wednesday: “We’ve been using the same defense for 41 years. So, I mean, it’s not like we’ve changed something this week.”
So in tonight’s game against Virginia Tech, the Orange will again utilize zone defense. But as Syracuse plays the zone, SU will also have to make sure each Virginia Tech player is covered.
Virginia Tech has five players that average double digits in scoring per game. Overall, the Hokies offense averages 83.3 points per game, the 26th best in the NCAA. Syracuse will have to be ready at any time for multiple of these players to be on the court at once, and the SU defense will have to keep an eye on each of them to avoid leaving them open for a shot.
The Syracuse zone defense shifts close to the side of the court where the ball is at the current moment. Earlier this season, the Orange was struggling to prevent wide open shots, allowing players on the other team to pass the ball to a player on the side of the court away from the current zone coverage and take a shot as SU was too slow to shift back and defend.
While playing zone defense against Virginia Tech, Syracuse will have to stay a little closer to each man in order to quickly guard against shots from anywhere on the court.
Both Syracuse and Virginia Tech average 12.5 turnovers per game.
At the same time, the Orange have been able to steal the ball at an average of 8.56 times per game, ranking 19th in the NCAA as compared to the Hokies’ 4.93 steals per game, ranking 310th in the NCAA. Syracuse currently leads the ACC in steals, and both Frank Howard and John Gillon are in the top ten in steals in the ACC.
If SU can minimize turnovers and utilize its ability to steal the ball, keeping the ball away from Virginia Tech’s offense that ranks 21st in field goal percentage (0.488), the Orange can find a way to stay on top.
Keep the Momentum Going
For nearly half the season, fans, critics and even us writers here on Orange Fizz have talked as if Syracuse’s season was already at its end. That pessimism (or others’ realism at the time) came at a time where SU only had six or fewer losses.
Last year, Syracuse had 13 losses before making the NCAA tournament. Ten of them were against ACC teams (counting the loss to Pitt in the ACC Tournament).
But now, with just two consecutive wins over Miami and Pittsburgh, optimism has suddenly flooded the gates once again.
The Orange’s season is starting to pick up a little speed, and it will gain much more if the team can continue with the current momentum and beat Virginia Tech for its first ACC win on the road.
The Hokies might be off to a 12-3 overall run, but they are off to a shaky start in ACC play after upsetting No. 5 Duke on December 31 and then losing to NC State and Florida State.
The Orange is just 10-6 to start the season, but after a loss to Boston College to open ACC play, Syracuse has surprised fans by defeating Miami and Pittsburgh with two strong performances to start 2-1 in ACC play.
And SU can ride past momentum with history on its side. Even though Virginia Tech is undefeated (9-0) at home so far this season, the Orange has won the last five games against the Hokies and leads the series 8-2 all time.
As Boeheim has repeated frequently over the last few postgame press conferences, past losses (and past wins) don’t help nor hurt how the team plays now. If the Orange puts these three tips to use, SU can prove it is the better team tonight.