Earlier today, we wrote about how Syracuse’s opportunities for victories are running out due to the tough nature of the schedule. One of those winnable games was Virginia Tech. We’re inching closer to tipoff between the Orange and Hokies, so let’s take a look at how SU emerges from that game victorious.
Before we do that though, it’s worth noting that last season, Virginia Tech took down Syracuse 71-59 at Cassell Coliseum. It was the Orange’s first game without Jesse Edwards, and they put up a heck of a fight. SU rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit to tie the game at 54 with just under 7 minutes remaining, but by then the tank had run out of gas. VT ended the game on a 17-5 run. But that was last season, let’s look at the first of two matchups between the two this year.
1. IMPROVE THE TRANSITION DEFENSE
Saturday’s loss to Virginia was frustrating for a number of reasons, but perhaps the most frustrating thing of all was the lack of hustle on the defensive end. Too many times, especially in the first half, the Orange did not match the pace at which the Cavaliers were pushing the basketball up and floor, and UVA got a shot right in front of the basket or an uncontested three-pointer. Virginia built a 17-point lead at one point before the break, and Syracuse was the equivalent of a dead man walking from that point onward.
Is hustling back on defense too much to ask for? Because the inherent lack of hustle, especially in transition, burnt Syracuse on Saturday. That cannot happen again, especially against a struggling Virginia Tech team that has lost four in a row. If the Orange (at minimum) keep up with the Hokies’ offensive pace, it’s an instant improvement from the UVA game.
2. DON’T LET JUSTYN MUTTS BEAT YOU
Mutts’ performance last season against SU was other-worldly. The New Jersey native put up the second triple-double in VT history and the first against Syracuse in over five years. Mutts had 12 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists, and the Orange’s defense had no answers for him. Simply put, Mutts won the game for Virginia Tech.
Mutts has done his thing for the Hokies this season, averaging 13 points and 8 rebounds per game. This isn’t to say VT other guys who can hurt you like Hunter Cattoor and Sean Pedulla, but Mutts is the engine that makes this Hokies train churn. If Syracuse keeps Mutts at bay, which it didn’t do last season, it’s a much easier path to victory.
3. REBOUND THE BASKETBALL
It sounds rudimentary, but it hasn’t really been that way for Syracuse this season. Jim Boeheim has harped on this team’s lack of effort on the glass more than a few times this season, but the interesting thing is the Orange haven’t been terrible as a team on the boards. SU is 50-50 when it comes to winning the rebound battle this season, which isn’t as awful as Boeheim’s demeanor might make you think it is. Here’s the thing though. Syracuse is 6-2 when it outrebounds its opponent, and 4-4 when it does not.
You can’t help but think that if the Orange had gotten a few more rebounds against St. John’s or Pittsburgh, an OT loss and a 2-point loss respectively, the final result of those games would look different. Even when SU outrebounds a team, as it did against Virginia, more is often desired (Chris Bell had zero rebounds). Boeheim has harped on it plenty of times, hopefully the message has fully gotten to Syracuse.
That’s how you beat Virginia Tech tonight if you’re Boeheim’s bunch. Time is running out for SU to save what feels like a sinking ship, a win tonight is the start.