SYRACUSE (10-6, 2-1) AT VIRGINIA TECH (12-3, 1-2)
Time – Tuesday, January 10th, 7:00pm
TV/Radio – ESPNU, 99.5FM WTKW
Last meeting – 2/2/16, Syracuse won 68-60 (OT)
Momentum? – After two straight impressive wins, Syracuse has some momentum for the first time this season. The Orange are playing with confidence and swagger. Will that translate into strong play against a quality opponent on the road? Does momentum travel?
Will He or Won't He? – One of Virginia Tech's best players is Seth Allen, who missed the Hokies last game with a concussion. He is a game-time decision against Syracuse. Allen is a huge spark for Tech off the bench. He averages 10.7 points and 3.5 assists per game while making over 43% of his three-point attempts. He can light it up from the outside and is an efficient offensive player. Missing him would be a blow to Virginia Tech.
Size Matters – While Virginia Tech is talented, they lack size inside. Of their top six players, five are 6-foot-6 or smaller. The Hokies do have freshman Khadim Sy, who stands at 6-foot-10. He only plays 13 minutes per game, however, and has not hit double figures in minutes in conference play. The Orange should have an advantage on the front court. Taurean Thompson could be especially effective given that advantage.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Justin Robinson vs 2-3 Zone
Justin Robinson runs the point for Virginia Tech. He is the team leader in assists, makes over 38% of his three-pointers and scores nearly 12 points per game. His ability to get into the lane against the zone, drive, draw defenders and kick to open shooters will be critical for both teams.
If Syracuse can limit his dribble-drive ability, it will make it tough for the Hokies to create open shots against the zone. However, if he is able to penetrate regularly, it puts the Orange defense in a difficult spot. If they collapse on Robinson, he has a plethora of shooters to whom he can distribute the ball. If they stay at home, Robinson can finish at the rim or find a cutter inside.
Orange Wins if …
They play with defensive energy – The biggest difference in the last two games for Syracuse was their defensive intensity. When they play with that type of aggression and play together, the zone can be very effective. If they continue that trend against Virginia Tech, it will lead them to victory.
Hokies Win if …
They shoot well from the outside – With the lack of size inside, Virginia Tech needs to shoot the ball well against the zone to win this one. It starts with Ahmed Hill, who is shooting 45% from beyond the arc. It continues with guys like Justin Robinson (38.6%), Seth Allen (43.2%) and Justin Bibbs (39.7%).
PG John Gillon – Over the last two games, Gillon is averaging 14 points, 11 assists and two steals per game. This while shooting 44% from three-point range. His strong performance in running the offense and distributing the ball has sparked the Orange. He needs to continue that strong play as Syracuse hits the road.
Something to Prove
F/C Taurean Thompson – While Syracuse has improved their play in recent games, Thompson's minutes has suffered significantly. With a huge size advantage, this is a game that Thompson could have a bigger impact. With his ability to hit the mid-range jumper and pass from the high-post, Thompson could be a matchup nightmare for the Hokies.
Looking to Build
F Tyler Roberson – Roberson was a beast against Pittsburgh after a solid performance against both Miami and Boston College. That is three consecutive strong performances for the senior forward. Syracuse needs another one from "plugged in Robey."
Freshman to Watch
G/F Tyus Battle – Battle has started taking the ball to the basket with more regularity in recent games. That was a big part of his game in high school, and it is starting to become that in college. Where Battle has surprised is with his outside shooting, hitting 43.9% of his three-point attempts. He has also become Syracuse's best perimeter defender.
Opposing Players to Watch
G Justin Robinson - Virginia Tech's leader in assists and a strong outside shooter, Robinson will be a key factor in the Hokies game plan against the zone. His ability to drive and kick will be crucial.
F Zach LeDay - The Hokies' leading scorer, LeDay is also Virginia Tech's second leading rebounder. He is a strong interior offensive player, who can step out and hit a jumper if left open. Syracuse must defend him in the high post.
G Ahmed Hill - Hill is an excellent outside shooter. He is hitting over 45% from three-point range this season. The Orange must make sure they keep an eye on him within the zone and prevent open looks.
Virginia Tech 76 Syracuse 73 - The Orange will play well, but the Hokies have too many shooters and are playing at home. If this were in the Carrier Dome, Syracuse would be the pick. Virginia Tech is talented and plays as hard as anyone in the league. Let's see if the zone will be as effective as it was the last two games on the road.