SG Trevor Cooney – Syracuse: Cooney’s outside shot has hit a strong level of consistency this season. Beyond that, he has been strong off the bounce, attacked the rim, passed well and been the best defender at the top of the zone on the team. He will need to keep that up as the Orange enter conference play.
C Rakeem Christmas – Syracuse: Remember when Christmas was playing only a few minutes, getting pulled and there was the concern that he would never become a consistent offensive player? Those days are well behind him as Christmas is the best weapon for the Orange. Not only has he developed a strong low-post game, but he has a hook shot, jumper and attacks the rim. Combine that with his solid defense and Christmas is Syracuse’s best option as a go-to player. He is currently the ACC’s leading scorer.
SG Adam Smith – Virginia Tech: The Hokies leading scorer, Smith is one of the best outside shooters in the conference. Despite taking nearly five three-pointers per game, he is making almost 48% of his shots from distance. Smith is not a strong defender, but is a solid ball handler. He will test the Orange zone.
SG Justin Bibbs – Virginia Tech: A bigger point guard, Bibbs can score, distribute and rebound. He is a talented offensive player is also hitting 48% of his shots from beyond the arc. As deadly as Bibbs is from the outside, he is also skilled off the bounce. When he gets into the lane, he can dish to open shooters, find a cutting finisher or attack the rim himself. He is easily the Hokies best player despite being a true freshman.
Virginia Tech Offense vs. Syracuse Defense
Virginia Tech is a very good outside shooting team at nearly 39% on the season, led by the aforementioned Smith and Bibbs. They aren’t the only two capable three-point shooters, however. Wing Ahmed Hill, point guard Devin Wilson and reserve guard Malik Muller can all hit from beyond the arc.
The key for the zone is to push out on the shooters and prevent open looks. Bibbs will likely try to penetrate and dish to Virginia Tech’s many outside weapons. Some inside out ball movement could also free Bibbs up for some looks as could some ball screens against the top of the zone.
If Syracuse pushes the zone to the outside, Virginia Tech lacks an inside threat with Joey Van Zegeren no longer part of the team. Other than Van Zegeren, Virginia Tech only has two players over 6-foot-5 in Shane Henry and Satchel Pierce. Neither has been terrible effective this season, but is a 7-footer with some skills but is foul prone.
Tech will live on the outside, and Syracuse will have to stay at home on the shooters. Particularly when their guards penetrate.
Syracuse Offense vs. Virginia Tech Defense
Virginia Tech is going to play primarily man against Syracuse. They are a solid defensive team, holding opponents to just 42% shooting and 34% from beyond the arc.
Syracuse’s big advantage is on the inside. Rakeem Christmas will have an athleticism and strength advantage as will Tyler Roberson. Roberson should really crash the boards hard in this one and could have a big day on the glass. Christmas should have a field day and could rack up yet another double-double.
The Syracuse backcourt will be tested by aggressive, physical Hokie guards. This will be a matchup where the Orange do not have a size advantage in the backcourt. A key aspect will be how Trevor Cooney responds to that and whether the Orange can get him open looks. Expect Virginia Tech to key on him. Justin Bibbs may draw that assignment.
This game is made for Michael Gbinije against a subpar frontcourt. He could have a field day driving the lane and getting to the basket. If help defenders come, Christmas or Roberson should be open inside for easy buckets.
The pick and roll game that Syracuse uses so well will be critical to their offensive success. Can Kaleb Joseph get back on track? He is due for a solid performance.
Syracuse won the first matchup as they held on for dear life down the stretch. But they are back at home this time around and have a big advantage on the inside. A double digit victory is just what the doctor ordered.