What Virginia needs to do to beat Syracuse on Saturday

UVA basketballThe Syracuse that Virginia will face on Saturday in JPJ is not the Syracuse that the ‘Hoos held to 34 points in the Carrier Dome in November.

Which isn’t to say that it’s a particularly good Syracuse team. The Orange (8-7, 1-3 ACC) have lost two straight, and only has one Top 100 KenPom win, a 97-63 beatdown of Georgia Tech a month ago.

The ‘Cuse is 3-3 since, with the wins in that stretch not even that impressive – 74-62 over Oakland (KP: 220), 82-70 over North Florida (KP: 171) and 71-57 over Niagara (KP: 303).

The difference that Virginia will see between the November season opener and this weekend is, this Syracuse team can at least score the ball.

The Orange are 36th nationally, per KenPom, in adjusted offensive efficiency (1.084 points per possession), and that’s factoring in the 34 points on 59 possessions against the Cavaliers.

(Factor that out: they’re averaging 1.119 points per possession, which would rank 12th nationally.)

Which is to say, Virginia won’t get away with another 48-point effort against the ‘Cuse 2-3 zone like we saw up in upstate New York back a couple of months ago.

One thing that might work in UVA’s favor is that the size that Jim Boeheim’s team brings – he goes with two 6’10” guys and two 6’6” guys to cover the baseline and wings with 6’1” Joseph Girard at the point – should allow Tony Bennett to counter with his best lineup.

(On paper, anyway.)

Expect to see solid minutes from 7’1” junior Jay Huff, who had 11 points (on 5-of-6 shooting) and 10 rebounds in 29 minutes in the season-opening win.

Huff’s minutes have diminished of late as the big man has struggled to find out how he fits into the mix.

Over the last six games, Huff has been averaging just 18.5 minutes per game, and in that stretch, he’s averaged 5.7 points and 4.2 rebounds per contest, shooting 48.4 percent from the floor and 1-of-6 from three.

In the first eight games of the season, Huff had averaged 25.8 minutes per game, scoring 10.4 points per game, pulling down 7.0 rebounds per game, shooting 63.6 percent from the floor, and connecting on 5-of-16 from three.

Big difference in productivity. Maybe Huff can get a jumpstart.

The role that Huff played in the offensive scheme in the opener at Syracuse was basically point-center – setting up a step inside the foul line and serving as the point-of-entry pass in the middle of the 2-3 zone.

Huff is a big target for that entry pass, and can turn to pass out to the perimeter if the zone collapses, or turn toward the basket for the 10- to 12-foot jumper if it sags, with the option to try to dribble-drive to the rim for a layup, dunk or dive pass to whoever the other big is on the floor.

It will be incumbent for the perimeter guys to hit the open looks from three that they’ll get, and of course, they haven’t been, yet.

I’d expect to see more Tomas Woldetensae, who has gotten only 19 minutes total over the past two games, after a four-game stretch that had him averaging 26.8 minutes and 7.5 points a game on 8-of-15 shooting from three.

Kody Stattmann had a nice night in the loss on Tuesday at Boston College, scoring 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting, but Stattmann still hasn’t found his stroke from three (just 21.2 percent from long-range this season).

You have to attack the 2-3 with that entry pass, but the defense is going to collapse on that pass if you can’t make Syracuse respect your ability to hit threes.

That’s going to fall on Woldetensae, Kihei Clark (40.4 percent from three this season), probably Mamadi Diakite (37.9 percent from three).

This group is never going to be confused with the one that hit on 18-of-25 from three in a win at Syracuse last season, but it’s got guys who can make shots.

They need to start making them, and it wouldn’t hurt if it started making them Saturday afternoon.

Story by Chris Graham

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