Men's Basketball

Syracuse basketball roundtable: What’s changed since the last time Syracuse and Virginia met and what Syracuse needs to do win

Logan Reidsma | Senior Staff Photographer

No. 10 seed Syracuse takes on No. 1 seed Virginia in the Elite Eight on Sunday. Our beat writers discuss three topics surrounding the matchup.

No. 10 seed Syracuse (22-13, 9-9 Atlantic Coast) is in the Elite Eight after an improbable NCAA Tournament run. The Orange has defeated No. 7 seed Dayton, No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee State, and 11th-seeded Gonzaga, but it now faces its toughest test against one of the ACC’s best teams in No. 1 seed Virginia (29-7, 13-5) on Sunday at 6:09 p.m. EST in the United Center in Chicago.

Beat writers Sam Blum, Jesse Dougherty and Matt Schneidman discuss three questions surrounding this Sunday’s game.

1. What’s changed for these two teams since they played in January and Syracuse lost by 8? 

Sam Blum: I think both teams would tell you that they got better, and that’s probably true. Teams do get better and clearly Syracuse is peaking at the right time. Right now you have Tyler Lydon playing some of his best basketball and you have Frank Howard as a guy who really extends the rotation to seven players. So Syracuse is a little deeper and has some options with its lineups. Virginia was the best team in the ACC then and still is. They’ve controlled tempo since day one and have beaten great competition. It was at that point in the season in January that UVA had struggled. But clearly all of that is behind the Cavaliers as they attempt to make the Final Four.

Jesse Dougherty: For Syracuse, the biggest changes are that Howard is getting more minutes and Lydon is becoming a much better interior defender. Both are really important factors against Virginia, with Howard having the ability to break down the pack-line man-to-man off the dribble and the Orange needing a sturdy Lydon to slow down Anthony Gill as much as possible. Virginia is mostly same team, and the biggest change I can see is that the Cavaliers’ offense has been a little more perimeter-oriented. After playing SU in late January, UVA had shot fewer than 10 free throws in just one of 19 games. Since, Virginia has done that five times in 17 games and has twice shot more than 20 3s. On Sunday, I’m sure SU wouldn’t mind it if the Cavaliers favored outside jumpers over paint touches, but I wouldn’t count on that.

Matt Schneidman: I’m not sure much has changed. Syracuse is the same team led by Michael Gbinije (24 points in the first matchup) and potentially boosted by a Malachi Richardson hot streak (23 points on Jan. 24). If anything, the Orange is playing its best defense of the season, having allowed 60 or fewer points in all three of its Tournament games. Virginia looked crisp, efficient and lethal in its double-digit win over Iowa State on Friday and a similar offensive performance may leave Syracuse with nothing other than to hope all three guards are on fire, which hasn’t happened often this season.

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Logan Reidsma | Senior Staff Photographer

2. What does Syracuse have to do to win against UVA?

S.B.: Syracuse wins if it controls tempo and doesn’t let Virginia become a good scoring team because of it. Tyler Roberson cannot have an off night. Gbinije needs to be able to get to the basket. And 3-point shooting needs to come from somewhere. The Cavaliers are a defensive powerhouse, and an improved one from previous years. If you break their really slow tempo you’ll have a shot.

J.D.: Control Gill. The zone can be kind to skilled perimeter players, and it’s players like Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes that will get theirs in this game as a result. But it’s not as definite that a good post player finds success against the 2-3, and a Syracuse win would include controlling Gill inside. That’s proven very hard for any team to do, but the Orange did hold Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis to four first-half points on Friday. On the other end of the floor, SU needs to do its best to get inside and not settle for deep jumpers against the Cavaliers’ tight pressure. That may seem simple, but a lot of teams settle for contested jumpers against Virginia’s long defense and up paying the price.

M.S.: If Syracuse wants to pull off a stunning upset of the top-seeded Cavaliers, it will have to heat up early and often on offense. Like a couple 3s from Trevor Cooney. And one or two each from Richardson and Gbinije in the first half. Then SU might still be in the game against the country’s second-best defensive team, who also happens to be a model of efficiency on the other end. If whoever guards Brogdon closely contests each shot the Naismith Trophy finalist takes, then he might miss some. Some. But it’ll take both of those, and more, for the Orange to pull off this one.


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3. What player-against-player matchup are you looking forward to during UVA-SU?

S.B.: I’m really looking forward to seeing how Lydon handles the bigs of Virginia. Mike Tobey had a monster game on Friday with 18 points. Gill is one of the best in the conference. But Lydon has established himself as a shot-blocking machine. So seeing how he handles the inside defensively is really intriguing to me.

J.D.: Since Syracuse plays a zone, the most intriguing matchup is Perrantes on defense guarding Cooney off the ball. Cooney has been very inventive around screens this season, using his 6-foot-4 frame to close off defenders on his way to the rim and also using a single step as an invitation to bypass a jumper and work inside. Perrantes is an especially strong defender on the perimeter, and does have the ability to take away Cooney’s jumper and driving lanes all at once. Whether he can or not will have a major effect on the game, as Cooney is one player that could really hurt Syracuse by settling, and really help it by attacking the rim.

M.S.: I was looking forward to the Tylers against Sabonis, so I’ll go with the Tylers against Gill. He’s one of the conference’s more underrated big men, averaging 13.9 points and over six rebounds per game. If Tobey doesn’t have the game of his life as he did against the Cyclones on Friday, Syracuse shouldn’t have a problem defending the frontcourt if it can muscle a performance like it did against Gonzaga. It may take two to close off the Cavaliers down low, but it’ll be worth the double-team and worth the watch.

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