Exorcising a demon: Virginia beats press, stifles Syracuse

uva syracuseIs there a fan base in America more nervous with a 17-point lead at the under-8 media timeout in the second half than Virginia when it’s playing Syracuse?

Doubtful. The nightmare that was the final eight minutes of the Elite Eight in 2016 will probably never be lost on UVA fans.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim actually tried to hasten the anxiety attacks across Wahoo Nation, going to the full-court press that turned that Elite Eight game around, and made things interesting at the end of the Orange’s 68-61 loss, out of the locker room this time, instead of waiting as he had done in those two games.

It felt like Boeheim was maybe pushing the panic button, since his rotation only goes six deep, but the thinking had to be along the lines of, let’s get Virginia out of its comfort zone, get back into the game a little earlier this time, then try to play straight up and see if there’s any gas left in the tank to hold on.

Not a bad plan, but it never got off the ground, because this Virginia team isn’t the 2016 team.

UVA did have eight second-half turnovers, so that part worked for Syracuse. But the ‘Hoos also shot 11-of-23 from the floor in the second half, 6-of-9 on shots in the paint, finishing at the rim after beating the press, attacking, which is what you’re supposed to do, but past Virginia teams often wouldn’t.

This Virginia team is also different on the defensive end. UVA teams are always among the nation’s best defensively, but this group is next-level even considering that record of excellence, leading the nation with a .820 points per possession total defensively that is the best of the KenPom.com era, which dates back to 2002.

Even with Syracuse pushing tempo, getting 31 possessions in the second half, after having just 25 in the first, the Orange couldn’t do anything with the extra chances, shooting 32.1 percent from the floor in the second half (9-of-28) and misfiring particularly from deep, going just 1-of-10 from three-point range.

The press got all the, well, press, in the Elite Eight win two years ago, but hand-in-hand with the press was what Syracuse was able to do on the offensive end in that game, basically throwing away its set offense to attack Virginia with impunity, dribble-drive after dribble-drive.

That strategy was in force Saturday, but, again, Syracuse just wasn’t as effective, shooting 8-of-13 in the paint in the second half, a good number, but still, clearly not enough.

Another area where Syracuse wasn’t as effective on Saturday: on the offensive glass. ‘Cuse rebounded 51.3 percent of its misses in the loss in JPJ last month, but managed just six offensive rebounds on Saturday, for a 17.1 percent clip.

Which is to say, not only is this Virginia team not the 2016 Virginia team, it’s not even the early January Virginia team.

Story by Chris Graham


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