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‘Hoos previews: Virginia takes show on the road for final time this year against Syracuse

uva syracuseFor the final time of the 2018-2019 regular season, the No. 2 Virginia Cavaliers (26-2, 14-2 ACC) hit the road, taking on the Syracuse Orange (19-10, 10-6 ACC) on ESPN’s “Big Monday.”

The Cavaliers are riding high at the moment, having won six in a row following their second loss to Duke. They recently completed a week in which they won two games by a combined 54 points, affording their stars some time to rest.

“The competitor in me just wants to play,” Ty Jerome said Saturday. “I look forward to games all week. The game is the best part of life, but of course [the rest] will pay off. We have a quick turnaround and play on Monday again, so any time we can get rest, it’s definitely beneficial.”

It’s a good thing the Cavaliers took care of business easily against Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh over the past week, because Monday’s clash certainly won’t be one for the weary. Syracuse’s patented 2-3 zone is as menacing as ever this year, and the Orange lead the nation in average height and block percentage.

“We’ve talked about it: You’re gonna have to be able to knock down some shots, get on the glass, get the ball in the right spots, take care of the ball and play the heck out of the defense,” Tony Bennett said Saturday. “That formula hasn’t changed.

The Orange responded from back-to-back losses to Duke and North Carolina with a blowout win at Wake Forest on Saturday. The Orange are safely in the NCAA Tournament field and, with outstanding length and athleticism, boast a tough defense and a capable offense that can get solid scoring from up and down the lineup, led by the trio of Tyus Battle, Elijah Hughes and Oshae Brissett.

Three Cavaliers to watch:

De’Andre Hunter. Hunter is Virginia’s one-man zone beater. The redshirt sophomore has taken his game to another level this season as an outstanding all-around scorer. Hunter can capably operate in the middle of the zone, where he can attack the rim, shoot from the midrange and distribute. Last year, he scored 15 points in both meetings with Syracuse. A likely future NBA lottery pick, Hunter will need to be at his best to break down the Orange’s defense.

Kyle Guy. Guy has 13 threes in three career games against Syracuse, and he’ll need to keep shooting it well to make the Syracuse zone extend out to the three-point line. Opponents attempt a ton of threes against Syracuse, and that should set up well for Guy, who made eight threes in his two games over the past week.

Mamadi Diakite. A great athlete, Diakite has length and athleticism that will be vital against the nation’s tallest team. Diakite registered 14 points against Louisville last Saturday, and the Cardinals at time went to a zone look. When they did, Diakite was a force on the glass. He’ll need to be active and alert so the Cavaliers can establish some sort of inside presence.

Three Orangemen to watch:

Tyus Battle. The leading scorer for Jim Boeheim’s team at 17.7 points per game, Battle carries a big load on both ends of the court, logging over 36 minutes per game. Battle shoots 44.5 percent from the floor, best among Orange guards, and scored 32 points in the win over then-No. 1 Duke. At 6-foot-6, Battle has great size for a guard, and he’s the engine that keeps the Syracuse offense running.

Oshae Brissett. Brissett is a versatile player and, at 6-foot-8 and 210 pounds, a likely matchup for De’Andre Hunter. Though he’s not shooting the ball particularly well this year, Brissett is the Orange’s second-leading scorer and a strong defender.

Paschal Chukwu. Chukwu will be honored on Senior Night on Monday, and he’ll be looking to give his team a big win in his final home game. Chukwu stands 7-foot-2 and is a terrific rim protector. His defense anchors the 2-3 zone, and though he’s not a big factor scoring, he can give the Orange extra possessions with his offensive rebounding.

KenPom says: Virginia, 64-56 (76 percent chance of victory)

Final notes

  • Virginia is 6-5 all time against Syracuse and has won two in a row against the Orange.
  • Virginia has one New York native: Ty Jerome (New Rochelle). Syracuse has no players from Virginia.
  • This is a key game for both teams in seeding for not only the NCAA Tournament but the ACC Tournament as well. Virginia can move closer to clinching the top seed in both with a win and retain its lead for the ACC regular season title in the process.
  • Syracuse, meanwhile, is still in the running for the No. 4 seed in the ACC, which would give them a double bye in the conference tournament.

Story by Zach Pereles

augusta free press
augusta free press