With ACC play set to start for the Syracuse Orange, Saturday, on the road at Virginia Tech, all eyes will be on junior shooting guard Trevor Cooney for obvious reasons. Much like last year, Cooney has caught fire in non-conference play to start the year, yet there is cause for concern that Cooney can keep up his scoring prowess into conference play.
Last season, Cooney averaged 14 points-per-game in non-conference play, yet he averaged just 7.0 points per game in the final seven ACC games, including the ACC Tournament. When Cooney is firing on all cylinders like he has in the past few weeks it makes the Orange that much harder to beat.
He’ll need to get off to a hot start in conference play to help take pressure off of senior center Rakeem Christmas. Cooney will most likely have his hands full at both ends with Hokies guard Justin Bibbs, who is our matchup to watch for Saturday’s matchup on ESPNU at noon.
The Case for Cooney
If the last five games have been any indication as to how good of a player Cooney can be, then Syracuse should feel pretty confident with how far he’s come.
Known as a shooter when he first came to Syracuse, Cooney’s game has expanded to the point where he’s a serious threat to put the ball on the floor and take it to the rim when defenders get too close to him on the perimeter. Adding that dimension to his game makes him hard to game plan for.
Averaging 13.2 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists Cooney has taken on a bigger role as a leader and distributor while working through some struggles from beyond the arc. Those struggles appear to have gone by the wayside as Cooney is 17-of-25 from deep in the last four games. That’s pretty impressive.
Defensively, Cooney is always wreaking havoc in the 2-3 on the perimeter. He averages 1.4 steals per game, which leads the Orange, and he’s coming off of a three steal performance against Cornell. Should Cooney continue his consistent all-around play he’ll be able to open up space in the paint for Christmas to continue to dominate. Should his shots not fall, the Orange could see the Hokies pack it in around Christmas and dare them to shoot.
The Case for Bibbs
Bibbs might be the best shooter the Orange has seen so far this season. The freshman guard comes into Saturday’s ACC opener shooting a robust 48 percent from beyond the arc. The Hokies’ second leading scorer at 12.0 points per game, Bibbs combines a great shooting touch with the ability to slash to the hoop and kick the ball out to other VT shooters in Adam Smith, Ahmed Hill and Devin Wilson.
Bibbs goes much like Cooney in the regard that when he’s shooting well, the Hokies play well. Bibbs is also averaging 2.8 rebounds per game to go along with 2.1 assists per game. He’s the best player VT has right now. Bibbs is the complete package – one that Syracuse could struggle to handle at both ends.
The Orange will have to be careful when closing out on Bibbs and the rest of VT shooters due to their ability to put the ball on the floor and break down the zone. Syracuse has to improve their high-post defense, which should make VT one-dimensional while settling for bad shots from beyond the arc.
Prediction: Syracuse 68, VT 60 with Bibbs out-producing Cooney in terms of scoring.