Forget that Syracuse basketball beat Virginia Tech the last five times the Orange and the Hokies played against each other. Forget that Syracuse had a rough start to this season and that SU was coming off two solid wins over ACC teams. Forget that Virginia Tech was 9-0 at home this season and had won 14 straight home games going back to last year before last night.
One main reason the Orange fell to the Hokies last night is that Virginia Tech was able to exploit Syracuse’s zone defense throughout the entire first half.
Coach Boeheim said in the postgame press conferences after both SU’s win over Miami and SU’s win over Pittsburgh that he thought the Orange’s success could be due in part to a more active defense that played better and looked more alive. Syracuse’s defense has been a deciding factor in SU’s wins and losses this season.
Last night, Virginia Tech repeatedly pierced the Orange’s zone defense.
The Hokies started their plays by passing the ball to the wings, keeping the ball on the sides of the court and opening up the Syracuse defense. Then, Virginia Tech passed the ball to the top of the key — the optimal location to pass the ball deep into the lane — and then passed the ball to the post under the net. From there, the SU defense was still spread out guarding the wings, and the quick post shot, layup or dunk was a simple task for Virginia Tech.
Syracuse cleaned up this defensive hole in the second half, keeping Virginia Tech to the sides of the court and dribbling around the outside of the arc, but the Orange needed to figure the problem out sooner.
SU went into the half down by six, started making more shots in the second half and brought the score within three, but the Orange were not able to take the lead. Add in Virginia Tech’s free throws that they got off of Syracuse’s fouls to stop the clock late in the game, and that is how the Orange ended the game down by ten.
As Boeheim said after Syracuse’s win over Miami last week, every game is going to be tough. If Syracuse wants to prove it can be competitive in the ACC this year, it has to also show adaptability in picking up on what is going on in the game and altering its game strategy accordingly.