ACC Basketball

Virginia Ready to Seal the Deal in Syracuse

(Dennis Nett | dnett@syracuse.com)

HOW THEY GOT HERE
Let’s just think about this for one second, if it wasn’t for one bad five-minute stretch of basketball, the Virginia Cavaliers would be undefeated, yet if they loss another game, they risk losing the 1-seed. Odd. Anyhow, Tony Bennett’s squad continues to survive injuries, scoring slumps and broken noses and have won eight straight.

Syracuse’s season is just about over and it probably couldn’t come soon enough. The Orange have dropped seven of 12 and haven’t won back-to-back games since January 13. However, they have remained competitive, challenge Duke in their first match up and actually defeating both Louisville and Notre Dame in the last three weeks.

FIVE DEEP THOUGHTS

  • If they can pull off another victory, Virginia will officially wrap up the second straight regular season title. This is huge because the last team to win back-to-back outright ACC regular season titles was NC State way back in 1973 and 74. Virginia did manage to win three straight titles between 1981-83, but they weren’t outright, since they shared the last two with North Carolina. Because the Cavaliers have two games to clinch it and there is no guarantee Duke will beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill, I won’t feed you the typical, “the pressure is on” line. I suspect Virginia will be relaxed and ready to play in the Dome Monday night.
  • It’s no mystery that the Cavaliers win with defense. The only mystery is how will Syracuse score any points? Keep in mind, they got owned by the Blue Devils, shooting 30.6% from the floor, 3-for-20 from deep and Duke’s defense is far from a juggernaut. I expect very little from Rakeem Christmas. He’s struggled against double teams and Virginia will double, triple, hell, the team managers will be surrounding Syracuse’s big man. The key is to make Virginia pay for packing it in, but it’s not like the Orange have a three-point shooter who can do that.
  • While Virginia’s offense hasn’t dominated since Justin Anderson has gone out, they remain efficient enough, as any player can step up and be the team’s go-t0 guy. Malcolm Brogdom I guess can be labeled the top guy, as he’s led the team in scoring since Anderson went down, but Anthony Gill has really shouldered a heavier load. He has led the team in scoring in a game three times, hitting double figures in seven of his last eight, including 16 against Virginia Tech on Saturday. He’s hitting 36 of his last 56 (64%), doing most his damage at or around the rim.
  • Trevor Cooney was 1-for-6 from deep against Duke this weekend. He’s now just 2 for his last 19 and 20 of his last 88 three-point shots (23%). Chances are, if Cooney’s shooting, he’s taking a bad shot and he’ll miss it. Yet, oddly enough, you would think teams would have a ton of baskets off Cooney’s misses, yet they don’t. In his last seven games, he has 59 misses (wow, that’s a lot), yet opponents have scored just eight times on their next attempt after a Cooney miss. Meanwhile, Syracuse has done a good time rebounding his misses and have score 10 baskets in that same possession.
  • Of course, to make up for Trevor Cooney’s misses, Michael Gbinije had to pick up the slack and he did, looking like a first-team All-ACC player for a brief moment. During an 8-game stretch, the junior averaged over 18 points per game, hitting on over 50% of his shots. However, he’s come back to earth lately. In his last three, he’s scored 12 points in each game, hitting just 11 of his 37 shots from the floor, including 3-for-14 from deep; a big reason why the Orange have scored just 61, 65 and 54 in their last three contests.

FINAL THOUGHT:
You have a home team with nothing to play for, struggling to put points on the board facing the nation’s best defensive team. The only thing Syracuse has going for them is that the zone challenges teams to hit from deep and that’s been a sore spot for Virginia after the Justin Anderson injury. In the first four games without their star, the Cavaliers hit just 10-for-47 from deep (21%), but over their last two, they’ve nailed 11-for-27 (40%).

I expect against the 2-3, Virginia’s outside shooting will fail them, but they’ll prevail with great rebounding, great play in the middle of that zone with Gill and Darion Atkins and of course, great defense.

WORTHLESS PREDICTION: Virginia, 53-47

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