After closing nonconference play with an 80-68 win over Cornell, Syracuse will return to Atlantic Coast Conference play for the rest of the regular season, starting against Virginia on Saturday. The Cavaliers haven’t played since a 17-point loss to Clemson on Dec. 22, and they’ve already dropped five games after losing just seven in each of the previous two years.
The Orange, meanwhile, will be playing for the third time in six days — with wins against the Big Red and Brown — following a COVID-19 pause. Buddy Boeheim leads SU in scoring with 18.8 points per game, and he scored 20-plus points in back-to-back games, on Monday and Wednesday, for the second time this season.
Here’s what The Daily Orange’s beat writers think will happen when Syracuse (7-5, 1-0 Atlantic Coast) hosts UVA (7-5, 1-1).
Andrew Crane (6-6)
Virginia 67, Syracuse 63
Syracuse, on paper, wins this game. It faces a Virginia team that’s one of Tony Bennett’s most inconsistent and puzzling in recent memory, and the Cavaliers have beaten only one team ranked higher than No. 180 in KenPom’s rankings. They lost their top three scorers from last season, and their returning roster hasn’t quite gelled with transfer portal additions defensively or concocted a formula that leads to consistent wins. But based on the shots taken by both teams and their opponents throughout the season, the Orange’s record would be 5-7 and Virginia’s would be 8-4, according to ShotQuality. The website also lists UVA (78%) and Syracuse (77%) at 271st and 305th, respectively, in their “Rim & 3 Rate,” which ShotQuality considers the two most valuable shots.
Because of those numbers, I think this will trend toward a low-scoring matchup featuring spotty offenses, which is the type of game that Virginia wins. Kihei Clark has been difficult for SU to defend before in the high post, and I’m interested to see if Bennett turns to that strategy to pull Jesse Edwards away from UVA’s post players and perhaps free up mismatches. The Orange have lost nine of 12 meetings to UVA since joining the ACC, and I don’t see that changing on Saturday.
Roshan Fernandez (7-5)
New year, new Syracuse?
Syracuse 70, Virginia 68
Virginia will play its first game since Dec. 22 when it faces Syracuse on Saturday in the Carrier Dome. Meanwhile, the Orange will be playing their third game in six days. SU looked very sloppy at times despite a double-digit win over Cornell on Wednesday, and it’ll need to clean up mental mistakes such as unforced turnovers as it enters conference play. Virginia is not a good 3-point shooting team, ranking 240th in the nation, and that’s just what the Orange need to kick off ACC play in the new year. Syracuse has looked extremely vulnerable when opponents start connecting their 3-point attempts, but luckily, that’s not likely to happen against Virginia. The Cavaliers lost by 17 to Clemson, and were upset by both Navy and James Madison University this season. This isn’t the same UVA team that earned a No. 4 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament. Syracuse has plenty of reform to do in the new year, and perhaps we’ll see glimpses of some defensive improvement on Saturday.
Gaurav Shetty (7-5)
Syracuse 79, Virginia 76
These are the games that Syracuse must win to have a chance at the NCAA Tournament. I’ve predicted a relatively high final score because of a combination of UVA’s 3-point defense and Syracuse’s defense as a whole. Head coach Jim Boeheim has harped on the Orange’s defense all season and now with ACC play kicking into full gear, Syracuse will have no choice but to improve. However, on the other side of the court, UVA’s 3-point defense has been uncharacteristically poor, ranked just 171st on KenPom. For a Syracuse team shooting 37.5% from deep, that is an exploitable crack in the Cavaliers’ armor. The Orange may also have Cole Swider on track as he has shot 6-for-8 in his past two games, albeit against weaker competition. Regardless, if Swider, Buddy and Joe Girard III get hot from 3, then Syracuse will have a great chance to pull out the victory.
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