Coming off a heartbreaking loss to a banged-up Notre Dame team on Saturday, the ACC slate doesn’t get any easier for SU this week. The Orange travels south to take on #3 Virginia on Tuesday night in a matchup of two of the best scoring defenses in the country (Virginia is #1 at 52.5 ppg, SU is #17 at 62.2 ppg). Not only is this matchup a showdown of fantastic defenses, it’s also a matchup that has produced some incredibly exciting tilts over the past few seasons and has some people feeling like SU and UVA may just have a burgeoning rivalry on their hands. It’s not going to be easy for the Orange to head to Charlottesville and pull out a win and here are three of the reasons why. In this week’s edition of three players to watch, we case the Cavaliers.
More affectionately known to Syracuse fans as “Man Bun” (see his picture above to see why), Kyle Guy is the most dangerous scorer on this year’s UVA team. A former 5-star recruit, the now man-bunless sophomore leads the Cavs in scoring at a nearly 15-point-per-game clip. As his recruitment ranking would suggest, Guy can score the ball in multiple ways. He’s an adept finisher near the rim, especially when he gets out in transition. Because transition offense isn’t super common because of the tempo Tony Bennett likes to operate with, Guy doesn’t get to flash that part of the game very often, but he can also create his own shot off the dribble. However, the best part of his offensive game is his long-range shooting. A 44% three-point shooter on the season, Guy is a guy that will kill you from beyond the arc if you leave him open. Whether it be pulling up off a screen or catching and shooting, Guy is a dangerous shooter that hurt SU as a freshman last season (team-high 14 points, 4-6 from three). UVA isn’t known for scoring a ton of points, but when it does, you’ll probably be seeing Kyle Guy do the majority of it.
Virginia’s M.O. is to apply intense defensive pressure and slow games down to a screeching halt. The Cavs want to win games by playing stifling defense and doing a solid job on the offensive end. Perhaps no player on the UVA roster personifies this strategy more than Isaiah Wilkins. A 6-foot-7 senior forward, Wilkins is an absolute monster on the defensive end for the Wahoos. He leads UVA in both blocks (23), steals (20) and rebounds (7 rpg) on the season by utilizing his length and incredible athletic ability to alter shots in mid-air and disrupt passing lanes both on the interior and the perimeter. The athleticism Wilkins has at his disposal also works to his advantage on the offensive end. He’s had a pretty nice season averaging 6.9 ppg by using his innate leaping ability to hammer home some wild dunks and finish at and above the rim. While a lot of that ability to throw down comes from natural, predisposed gifts, Wilkins also has a pretty cool mentor to look up to. His stepfather is none other than Hall of Famer, Dominique Wilkins, one of the most explosive dunkers in NBA history. With all the bounce in the world, a tenacious defensive attitude and a little bit of lineage on his side, Wilkins may be the perfect candidate to make an impact on Tuesday night.
The final player to watch for on Tuesday night may be the smartest athlete on his team. Redshirt senior Devon Hall, graduated with a degree in media studies in his first three years on the UVA campus and is now pursuing a master’s degree. While his success in the classroom is probably the most impressive thing about Hall, he’s also a master on the court. UVA’s second-leading scorer, Hall averages 12 points and a team-leading three assists per game this season, making him the most versatile guard for the Cavaliers. At 6-foot-5, he can guard multiple positions, meaning that Bennett can use a lot of different personnel while still feeling comfortable with Hall leading the way on the court. Like Guy, Hall is an excellent three-point shooter (team-leading 46%) and can score in a variety of ways, whether that be from beyond the arc or finishing lobs at the rim. Outside of his versatility, Hall’s best tool is probably his uniqueness. Because he shoots left-handed, Hall can create matchup issues for teams because of how uncommon left-handed players and shooters are. In the end, Hall’s intelligence, versatility and uniqueness could all present problems for SU on Tuesday night.