Date: Tuesday, February 3
After a tough 68-66 loss to Syracuse earlier this year, the Hokies will get another shot at the Orange in the Carrier Dome tonight. Malik Mueller’s potential game-winning three was partially blocked back in early January, which propelled the Orange to a 1-0 start in ACC play. Tech hopes to finish off the upset this time around.
Syracuse is 14-7 overall and 5-3 in the ACC. The Orange have ACC wins over the Hokies, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Wake Forest and Boston College. They have ACC losses to Clemson, Miami and UNC. In other words, their wins have come against the bottom of the league, and their true test will come in the second half of their ACC schedule, when they play Duke (twice), Louisville, Notre Dame and UVA.
Since that first meeting, Syracuse has lost freshman forward Chris McCullough for the season to a torn ACL. He was averaging 9.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, and he had two points and seven rebounds in the first meeting with the Hokies. His absence affects depth, though the Orange might have upgraded their starting lineup with Tyler Roberson, who averages 7.4 points and 7.1 boards. He had 11 points and 17 rebounds (8 offensive rebounds) against the Hokies back in January.
Here is the Syracuse starting lineup:
G Kaleb Joseph (6-3, 165, Fr.): 6.7 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 100 assists, 56 turnovers. Joseph is going through his first season as a starter in the ACC. He shoots 38.5% from the field and has made just five three-pointers all year.
G Trevor Cooney (6-4, 195, r-Jr.): 14.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg. Cooney is 56-of-152 (36.8%) from three-point range, and he represents the most dangerous Orange threat from the outside.
F Michael Gbinije (6-7, 200, Jr.): 11ppg, 5 rpg. The transfer from Duke is having a good year for Syracuse. He is a 40% (28-of-70) three-point shooter, though he’s just 48% (24-of-50) from the free throw line.
F Tyler Roberson (6-8, 212, So.): 7.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg. Roberson is playing pretty good basketball right now, and the Hokies can’t allow him to go for 11 points and 17 boards again.
C Rakeem Christmas (6-9, 250, r-Sr.): 18.4 ppg, 9 rpb. Christmas is one of the best big men in the country, and he is a very tough matchup for this undersized Tech team.
Syracuse doesn’t have much depth. They played just seven guys against the Hokies in the first meeting, and since then Chris McCullough has torn his ACL. Here is how their minutes broke down in their most recent game against UNC:
Trevor Cooney: 40
Rakeem Christmas: 40
Michael Gbinije: 38
Tyler Roberson: 35
Kaleb Joseph: 24
Ron Patterson (6-2, 200, So.): 18
BJ Johnson (6-7, 185, SO.): 5
Jim Boeheim doesn’t completely trust Kaleb Joseph, so he platoons him with sophomore Ron Patterson. Other than that, he is very hesitant to use anybody off his bench. The Orange have major depth issues that you would never expect from a program of their reputation. A starting center shouldn’t be playing 40 minutes a game, and neither should Trevor Cooney.
Overall, this Syracuse team doesn’t shoot well (43.8% FG, 31.8% 3Pt., 65.8% FT), but they can make up for it by playing great 2-3 zone defense.
Here is how the two teams compare from an efficiency standpoint.
Offensive efficiency: VT #161, Syracuse #147
Defensive efficiency: VT #201, Syracuse #15
Rebounding rate: VT #332, Syracuse #73
Turnovers per possession: VT #152, Syracuse #77
Opp. Turnovers per possession: VT #126, Syracuse #55
Syracuse ranks higher than the Hokies in every single statistic, though it’s obvious that rebounding is the main difference between the two schools. Tech’s defensive rebounding has been so poor that it hurts their overall defensive efficiency. Meanwhile, Syracuse has been very mediocre offensively, but their 2-3 zone defense has managed to keep them in games.
The Hokies must shoot successfully over the Syracuse zone, and they must compete on the boards to have a chance to win. Tech was only outrebounded by Wake Forest by four, in spite of Wake being ranked #22 nationally in rebounding rate heading into the game. The Hokies did a better job of getting a body on people, which helped their production on the glass and kept them in the game. That has to continue going forward.