Syracuse comes to Cassell…finally

Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com, on January 7, 2014
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Time: 9pm
TV: The ACC Network (click here for affiliate list)

Despite playing in the Big East together for four years, Syracuse has visited Cassell Coliseum just once…way back in 1978.  The Hokies defeated the Orange (then Orangemen) that night, though tonight’s matchup will be a much bigger challenge.

Syracuse is 14-0 and ranked #2 in both polls, and they are determined to win the ACC in their first year in the league.  The Hokies are 8-5, they lost 96-77 to the only elite team they have faced (Michigan State), and they were defeated at home by UNC Greensboro.  These two teams have three things in common…

1: They play in the ACC.
2: They used to play in the Big East
3: The color orange

Let’s take a quick look at the team Jim Boeheim will (finally) bring to Cassell Coliseum tonight…

G Tyler Ennis (6-2, 180, Fr.): Ennis is averaging 11.6 points per game, and he leads his team with 77 assists.  He scored 28 points against Cal.  He was a 5-star recruit coming out of high school, and he is a projected first round pick in June’s draft.

G Trevor Cooney (6-4, 195, r-So.): Cooney averages 14.1 points per game for the Orange.  He is a terrific shooter, making 45 of his 98 three-point attempts this season (45.9%).  Virginia Tech has had trouble defending the perimeter this season, so this is a guy to keep your eye on.

F C.J. Fair (6-8, 215, Sr.): Fair leads Syracuse with 17.2 points per game, and he also averages 5.6 rebounds per game.  The senior is projected to be a second round pick in the NBA Draft.  He can step out and knock down the outside jumper, though in general he’s much better from inside the arc.

F Rakeem Christmas (6-9, 250, Jr.): Christmas averages 5.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.  He leads the team with 18 blocks.

C DaJuan Coleman (6-9, 280, So.): Coleman averages 4.7 points and 4.3 rebounds, and he is the heaviest Syracuse player on the roster.  He and Coleman will try to push around Virginia Tech’s frontcourt, which has been somewhat soft through the first half of the season.

That’s the Syracuse starting lineup, though arguably their most talented player comes off the bench.  Jerami Grant (6-8, 210, So.) averages 12.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.  He is a potential lottery pick in the NBA Draft.

Out of those top six players for Syracuse, one is a projected lottery pick who comes off the bench, another could sneak into the lottery, and one is a possible second round selection.  Think about that for a second…Jim Beoheim has the luxury of bringing a lottery pick off the bench.

Meanwhile, the Hokies will counter with a team ravaged by injuries and the flu.  C.J. Barksdale still isn’t 100% with knee and ankle injuries, and Adam Smith is still questionable with his calf injury.  To make matters worse, Barksdale has the flu, as does fellow power forward Marshall Wood.  All three of those guys are questionable for tonight’s game.  No ACC team has seen it’s players miss more games due to injury than Virginia Tech.

“I’m not sure what this team is really capable of yet because we haven’t had everybody together yet,” James Johnson noted on Monday.  “And I rarely have everyone together in practice.”

In other words, it’s a typical Virginia Tech basketball season, isn’t it?

To add insult to injury, I’m not sure how well-attended tonight’s game will be.  It’s freezing cold in Blacksburg, in case you haven’t heard, and that will keep some people away.  Also, school doesn’t start until next week, which means Cassell Coliseum will be missing it’s rowdiest cheering section.

The Hokies will have to play good defense, limit their turnovers, and keep the score low.  Miami nearly upset Syracuse this past weekend by keeping the score in the 40s (Syracuse eventually won 49-44).  Tech will have to employ a similar strategy, and figure out away to get some points against the vaunted Syracuse 2-3 zone.


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