Syracuse travels to Virginia to play the Cavaliers on Saturday, Jan. 7 at 5 p.m. (TV: ACC Network). Here’s what to watch for in the game:
How will Virginia react to a loss to Pitt?
For the first time all season, Virginia was defeated by an unranked team. With the game tied at 60 with 1:47 to go, the Cavs made three uncharacteristic turnovers, and Pitt made six consecutive free throws to pull away with a 68-65 win. That dropped the ‘Hoos to 2-2 in conference play, while Pitt improved to 4-0. How will the team react to the upset loss? Tony Bennett’s teams are known for their defense and disciplined play, and this season is no different. The Cavs are 20th in defensive efficiency and 361st in tempo according to KenPom, which always makes this a difficult matchup for Syracuse. Expect UVA to be on top of their game on Saturday.
Can Joe Girard keep it up?
After a three-game stretch in November when Joe Girard scored a combined 9 points, he’s regained his shooting touch. Over the past eight games, Girard has scored at least 15 points, and is now averaging a team-high 16.7 ppg coming off a 28-point performance in SU’s win over Louisville. While Girard was sloppy with the ball at times (5 turnovers), he hit a key 3-pointer and several free throws in the waning minutes to allow the Orange to escape Kentucky with a win. Can Girard continue his hot streak against Virginia? The Cavaliers allow just 59.1 ppg (13th in the NCAA) while limiting opponents to 33.6 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Girard will likely be at the top of their defensive game plan.
Will Jim Boeheim use his bench more?
Jim Boeheim used 11 scholarship players in SU’s win over Boston College in the final game of 2022. As the calendar turned into 2023, Boeheim fell into a familiar pattern, playing only two players off the bench (Maliq Brown and Justin Taylor) for double-digit minutes. Syracuse produced just 3 bench points as Boeheim played Girard and Mintz the full 40 minutes. Notably, Quadir Copeland (coach’s decision) and Symir Torrence (injury) didn’t appear at all against the Cardinals. Keep a close eye on whether Boeheim turns to his bench quickly, or not at all, against Virginia.