Virginia is a very solid offensive team that in many ways mirrors the UMass team that Syracuse struggled to defend a week ago. The Cavs can place up to 5 perimeter shooters on the floor at any given time and have connected on an incredible 44% of their attempts on the season. Players like Mamadi Diane (19-33) and Calvin Baker (12-23) have posted three point shooting numbers that are eerily similar to those of UMass's Etienne Brower.
Although Virginia makes more than 10 threes a game, they also have the ability to push the ball in transition to get easy baskets and they usually make good on their free throw opportunities (> 73% from the line). Sean Singletary, a 6-0 SR PG, excels in both of these aspects of the game. Few players in college hoops can set up their own perimeter shot or find teams on the fastbreak like Singletary can. He has a very quick release and can get his shot off without much room, and he also gets to the line often, where he is deadly (45 of 48).
Unlike the Minutemen, the Cavs are also a strong rebounding team, so SU's match-up will be that much more difficult. Adrian Joseph, a 6-7 SR, is their most active player on the glass (8.1 rpg) and the team is very balanced overall with 3 other players pulling in more than 4 boards a night. Singletary also makes a contribution in this department, using his quickness and nose for the ball to the tune of almost 4.5 boards a game.
Even though they have posted an average rebound margin of + 16, the Cavs do have some weaknesses in terms of interior defense. Tunji Soroye, their 6-11 SR center, has yet to play a game this season, so they are a little smaller than projected. Ryan Pettinella (6-9 SR C) starts in the middle, but he is hardly a force on either side of the court. Outside of Adrian Joseph, the Cavs' most productive big man is 6-8 FR Mike Scott, who recorded a double-double against Penn but has yet to play more than 20 minutes in a single game. Consequently, Syracuse should have an offensive advantage on the inside as UVA has no one to match up with Arinze Onuaku, Paul Harris, or Rick Jackson.
Another aspect of this game to consider is that head coach Dave Leitao is very familiar with Boeheim's system, having nursed at the heels of arch-rival Husky Jim Calhoun. Like Calhoun, Leitao favors an open system that features frequent substitutions and uptempo basketball. Look for UVA to be prepared for the SU zone and attack it with high post entry passes, ball reversals, and overloads of the weakside for putback attempts on missed shots.
Key Match-ups: This is a big game for Jonny Flynn, who will face his stiffest test of the season in Sean Singletary. The closest player talent-wise that he has matched-up with was Jamar Butler of Ohio State, and we all know how poorly Flynn fared in that game. Jonny has to focus on what he does best (driving and creating offense) without getting caught up in trying to outshoot Singletary. The Orange have been at their best this season when Flynn has led the attack with pinpoint transition passing. We'll need to see more of that on Wednesday night for the ‘Cuse to escape John Paul Jones Arena with a victory.
Another key match-up will be Onuaku vs. the UVA bigmen. Onuaku has been very good on the offensive end this year, but his defense has been questionable in the zone and even worse in transition. It is imperative for Boeheim to get better balance between Onuaku and Jackson. Onuaku had a big game against UMass (20/10), but was simply gassed at the end after having to play almost the entire second half without a rest. Leitao will use just as many subs as Travis Ford did and he'll also direct his team to push the tempo in a similar manner. If Onuaku plays more than 30 minutes in the middle, things could get ugly late in the game.
Donte Greene's play will obviously be very important as well. Can he bounce back from the worst game of his young career? Syracuse can't hope to win if Greene replicates the abysmal 0-7 three point shooting performance he put on against Tulane. This is a game where Greene could be very effective attacking the basket or shooting mid-range shots. He makes himself too easy to guard when his offense degenerates into the predictable pattern of only attempting three pointers and transition dunks.
Prediction: The Orange showed some pride on Saturday night, holding Tulane to 60 points after giving up almost double that amount three days prior. While Tulane is not a good offensive club, it was nice to see the increased effort and intensity on the defensive end. Wednesday night's game will offer fans an opportunity to see if the Orange have indeed started to take heed of Boeheim's requests to play better team D. Anything less than all-out effort and Virginia will put 90+ points on the board.
Although it pains me to say it, I haven't seen enough focus on both ends of the court from Syracuse to suggest that they can go into a hostile environment against a good offensive team and escape with a victory. The young Orange may yet surprise me, as this squad has a ton of offensive talent, good size, and a heady point guard, but until they take the defensive end more seriously I can't see them winning a game like this. My initial prediction is UVA 88 SU 79, but if the Orange(men) can stay focused for a full 40 minutes and pull out the win, this is a game that could serve as a catalyzing moment much like SU's victory over Georgia Tech in 2003. And we all know how that season ended…