Desperate Hokies Seek Significant Road Win At Syracuse

Darius Maddox and the Hokies look to right the ship at Syracuse. (Ivan Morozov)

Virginia Tech men’s basketball (11-5, 1-4 ACC) rides a four-game losing streak into Wednesday’s clash at Syracuse (10-6, 3-2 ACC). The Hokies are desperate for a fortune-changing result. Tom Werme and Terrence Oglesby have the call at 7 p.m. ET on RSN.

Tech’s missed senior guard Hunter Cattoor in the last three contests after he bruised his left elbow at Boston College on Dec. 21. He’s a game-time decision for Syracuse, though head coach Mike Young is hopeful. However, true freshman Rodney Rice is medically cleared and is expected to make his Virginia Tech debut on Wednesday.

The Orange return home after a 73-66 loss at Virginia on Saturday. Before that, though, they won two straight games against Boston College and Louisville.

Syracuse current sits at No. 133 in the NET (No. 90 in KenPom). Tech is 6-11 in the all-time series, and 2-2 under Young. Justyn Mutts had the program’s second-ever triple-double in last season’s 71-59 win in Cassell Coliseum. Yet, VT lost the previous two outings, including a 78-60 drubbing in January 2021 in Syracuse.

The notable fact: Virginia Tech has only won at the JMA Wireless Dome (formerly the Carrier Dome) once in eight tries.

Justyn Mutts led the way for the Hokies with a triple-double in last year’s meeting vs. Syracuse. (Jon Fleming)

Syracuse

In early November, Tech Sideline split the conference in half and published two previews of the teams around the ACC. Here’s the synopsis for Syracuse:

The Orange are back to just one Boeheim after Jimmy and Buddy both graduated. Cole Swider left, too. Now, it’s just Jim, who enters his 46th season in Syracuse. Virginia Tech played well in the lone meeting last season, winning 71-59 in Cassell Coliseum, and Justyn Mutts had the program’s second-ever triple-double. Joe Girard, Jesse Edwards and Symir Torrence are back, but the Orange appear an average ACC team. They lost five of their last six games last year. Judah Mintz is a top-50 recruit (No. 33) and Edwards is healthy again, but this is a young Syracuse team (seven freshmen).

Syracuse is the second-youngest team in the ACC, tied with Duke. Only Louisville is younger. Two freshmen – Judah Mintz and Chris Bell – start with a sophomore – Benny Williams – while three other freshmen are in the rotation off the bench.

Something crazy: Jim Boeheim does not have a single transfer on his roster. His rotation consists of three seniors, a redshirt junior, two sophomores and five freshmen. All of them were recruited to Syracuse and have stayed.

Jim Boeheim has a very young team at Syracuse this season. (Jon Fleming)

In typical Boeheim fashion, Syracuse plays a 2-3 zone. As a result, opponents’ point distribution is heavily skewed, according to KenPom:

3-pointers: 42.5%, No. 3 in D-I
2-pointers: 43.5%, No. 345
Free Throws: 14.1%, No. 333

It helps to shoot well from deep against the Orange. Tech didn’t last year, making just eight of its 27 attempts (29.6%) from deep. But Mutts played in the center of the zone, hence the 11 assists in his triple-double, and the Hokies were superb: 20 assists to just four turnovers.

Here are Syracuse’s five ACC results:

Dec. 3 at Notre Dame: W, 62-61
Dec. 20 vs. Pitt: L, 84-82
Dec. 31 vs. Boston College: W, 79-65
Jan. 3 at Louisville: W, 70-69
Jan. 7 at Virginia: L, 73-66

Similar to last year’s game, will Mike Young have Justyn Mutts distribute from the middle of the 2-3 zone? (Ivan Morozov)

The team suffered bad losses to Colgate, St. John’s and Bryant in November, though St. John’s is a solid squad. What’s been the common denominator in league play, though? 3-point shooting.

In both conference losses, the Orange allowed their opponent to shoot above 40% from distance. In the three wins, that happened just once (at Louisville). Here’s a distribution for the full season:

When holding opponents between 20 and 29% from three: 4-2
Between 30 and 39% from three: 4-1
Between 40 and 40% from three: 2-3

The Hokies haven’t used the three-ball to their advantage as often as last season, but if there was a time to come alive from downtown, it would be on Wednesday.

Including the previous five ACC teams Tech’s played, Syracuse ranks fifth in adjusted offensive efficiency (No. 83), per KenPom. Defensively, that number is also fifth (No. 115). To put it simply, NC State, Clemson and North Carolina were better all-around teams. Boston College is better defensively while Wake Forest has the edge on offense.

Mike Young and the Hokies could use a few extra 3-pointers on Wednesday. Their high in ACC play is nine. (Jon Fleming)

The Orange Roster

Six different players have started a game for Syracuse this season while three average double figures. Here’s what the rotation looks like according to points per game:

Joe Girard (6-1, 190, Sr.): 16.8 points per game
Judah Mintz (6-3, 172, Fr.): 15.9
Jesse Edwards (6-11, 230, Sr.): 13.3
Benny Williams (6-9, 208, So.): 8.0
Chris Bell (6-7, 180, Fr.): 6.8
Justin Taylor (6-6, 205, Fr.): 4.6
Maliq Brown (6-8, 213, Fr.): 4.3
Symir Torrence (6-3, 195, Sr.): 3.1
Quadir Copeland (6-6, 203, Fr.): 1.9
Mounir Hima (6-11, 230, So.): 1.4
John Bol Ajak (6-10, 216, r-Jr.): 1.3

Girard, Mintz, Edwards and Bell have started all 16 games for Syracuse. Williams started all 15 in which he appeared; Ajak stepped in during his absence. It’s a very connected five for the Orange, though.

Girard and Mintz are two peas in a pod in the backcourt. Mintz is nowhere near the 3-point specialist Buddy Boeheim was – he’s 6-of-30 (20%) from deep this year – but he shoots 44% from the floor, gets to the free throw line (81 attempts, 63 makes, 77.8%) and leads the ACC in steals (35). He’s also the team’s assist leader with 66, averaging 4.1 per game.

The Hokies could desperately use a win at Syracuse. (Ivan Morozov)

Girard is seventh in the conference in scoring, marginally behind Virginia Tech guard Sean Pedulla in fifth (17.3 ppg). He’s lethal from behind the arc and an excellent foul shooter. Meanwhile, Edwards averages 10.9 rebounds per game, which ranks second in the league. He’s troublesome defensively, too, and ranks seventh in D-I in blocks with 47. And don’t forget about his offensive game – he shoots 61% from the floor.

The Orange are tall – six of the 11 players in their rotation are 6-7 or taller. It makes sense, then, that they heavily relies on 2-point shooting. Here’s the points distribution:

3-pointers: 24.9%, No. 318 in D-I
2-pointers: 57.6%, No. 34
Free Throws: 17.5%, No. 211

Syracuse’s guards can slash to the basket and get to the rim, and the bigs are efficient around the basket. Each of the six players taller than 6-7 shoot better than 43% from the floor, and Edwards and Brown are both better than 60%.

The Hokies will rely heavily on their frontcourt depth on Wednesday. Mutts, Grant Basile, Lynn Kidd and Mylyjael Poteat will all be called on defensively, and it’ll be important to stay out of foul trouble.

Syracuse is a simple team that likes to grind its opponents down and wear them out with the zone. After the NC State game, however, it’s Virginia Tech’s defense that will be key in this game. For the first time in seven games, the Hokies allowed an opponent to shoot better than 50% on two-point shots. If that happens again in Syracuse, it could be a long evening.

12 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. ‘Desperate’ might be a bit dramatic, but it at least feels that way.

    With Rice and hopefully Cattoor tonight, maybe we will see the return of the team that got off to an 11-1 start. There is plenty of time left in the season. Being 1-4 is not nearly as deep a hole as last season’s 2-7, which we overcame beyond expectations.

    This team is 24-8 in the last 32 games, going back to last season. I trust that Mike Young and staff, have things under control. After last year’s finish, I am not throwing in the towel.

    Go, Hokies!

    1. Leading into games at UVA and at Pitt, 1-4 could very quickly become 1-7 is they don’t get a win tonight.

  2. Come on Hokies!! Let’s get back on the right track before we move into a Van Down by the RIVER!

  3. Hoping for a win but I expect another loss tonight, simply not enough talent to win on the road at Syracuse.

    This is a very average team right now…

    1. I too have no illusions about this game. Syracuse will not have the defensive physicality that Hokies have not handled against recent teams; but, they’ll have to make 3’s against that stupid zone and they haven’t handled that very well recently.

  4. Not sure I would use the word “Desperate” in the title, but we certainly need a win. Even better if it comes on the road against Cuse. We sure seem to struggle up there.

    Go Hokies!

        1. Couldn’t agree with hokiepro and HOKIE SEAN more. If we’re not desperate now I’m not sure what would make us so with the upcoming schedule. Hopefully Catoor and Rice can play a full game. If not, pretty sure that it will be another L on the scoreboard the way things have gone recently.

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