Syracuse hosts No. 16 Virginia Tech on Saturday, Jan. 23 at 12 p.m. (TV: Regional Sports Television). Ahead of the game, The Juice Online’s Saugat Sen and Wes Cheng give their predictions below.
Season Record: 2-0
Syracuse will face their first ranked conference opponent of the season on Saturday.
Virginia Tech has won its last three games, including squeaking by Wake Forest on Tuesday, 64-60.
The Hokies are led by junior forward Keve Aluma, who is averaging 14.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Closely behind Aluma is sophomore guard Tyrece Radford who has been in tremendous form as of late, averaging 19 points and eight rebounds in his last two games. He helped the Hokies put away the then-No. 19 Duke with 18 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists in a 74-67 upset win.
Meanwhile, for Syracuse, Jim Boeheim announced following the Orange 83-57 win over Miami that its starting guards, Joe Girard and Buddy Boeheim had COVID-19 following its December game against Buffalo.
Related or not, both of them came out of their slump in the last game shooting a combined 53 percent from outside for 46 points. But the key for the Orange will be how much freshman reserve guard Kadary Richmond plays.
In the rout of Miami, Richmond scored 7 points, 8 assists and added 5 steals in 20 minutes. When he entered the game in the first half, the Orange trailed 11-2. By intermission, Syracuse had taken a 14-point lead.
Against a tough Virginia Tech defense, the Orange will need his ability to drive and kick out to their sharpshooters. SU’s guard play will keep them in this but the Hokies will run away late for a 82-78 win.
Season Record 4-3
Unlike Syracuse’s opponents as of late who were poor 3-point shooting teams, but were more athletic inside, Virginia Tech presents an opposite conundrum. The Hokies are one of the best outside shooting teams in the ACC at 34.9 percent, with three different rotation players shooting better than 36 percent from beyond the arc.
Meanwhile, the Hokies are a slow tempo team, ranked 280th in the country in adjusted tempo by KenPom, while also 203rd in the country at 35.6 rebounds per game. Aluma at 6 foot 9 and Justyn Mutts at 6 foor 7 are the tallest players in the Hokies’ starting lineup, with Virginia Tech employing a three-guard lineup to start.
That will place a different kind of strain on SU’s 2-3 zone. Instead of packing in like they did against Pitt or North Carolina, the zone will need to extend to account for Jalen Cone (39.0 3pt%), Nahiem Alleyne (36.4) and Hunter Cattoor (48.8 – wow!).
That should allow Marek Dolezaj to mostly stay out of foul trouble, and for the Orange to keep a relatively tight rebounding margin. Jim Boeheim may even give some extended minutes to Jesse Edwards given his encouraging 7 points, 6 rebound performance against Miami, which would allow Dolezaj to slide to his more natural wing position and get out to defend the 3-point line more.
Four of the Hokies’ last five games have been decided by seven points or less, and I don’t see this being any different. Unfortunately for Syracuse, the Hokies make one too many plays down the stretch, and down Syracuse 65-60.