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Syracuse extended its Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament run, and its chances for an NCAA Tournament bid, with its 89-68 win over NC State in the second round on Wednesday. That means the Orange return to the Greensboro Coliseum on Thursday to face No. 1-seed Virginia, which defeated SU 81-58 earlier in the season.
The Cavaliers are led by Sam Hauser, who averages 15.8 points per game and 44% on 3-pointers. And when UVA defeated the Orange by 23 in Charlottesville, he and Jay Huff led all scorers with 21 points each.
Here’s what The Daily Orange’s beat writers think will happen when the Orange play UVA.
Andrew Crane (15-9)
And the wait begins
Virginia 80, Syracuse 76
I was very tempted to pick Syracuse here. So tempted. With the way the Orange’s past three games have gone, I wouldn’t be surprised if they do pull off the upset Thursday and advance to the semifinals. It’d even help me erase some ground in the BWP standings with my fellow beat writers picking the Cavaliers. But this is Virginia, this is Tony Bennett, and this is the team that maneuvered its way through SU’s 2-3 zone with ease in January. I expect the Orange to make this game more competitive, especially with the way Buddy Boeheim has played in the last six games, but the Cavaliers do just enough with Huff and Hauser to get a few baskets at the end.
Then, it all comes down to Sunday, March 14, the reveal of the NCAA Tournament bracket, and end of the argument of if these past two weeks are enough to lift Syracuse’s season off the bubble.
Anthony Dabbundo (18-6)
Virginia 75, Syracuse 72
Syracuse made me look pretty dumb on Wednesday, huh? The Orange’s offensive barrage is a reminder of how much potential Syracuse has when the shots are falling. But Virginia is a different type of challenge. The pack-line defense has given the Orange fits for years and Bennett’s men will be more prepared for the ball screens than NC State was.
On the other end, Virginia’s offense is patient and precise. They generated a concerning number of open looks at home against Syracuse in January, and I’m not sure that the Orange will play disciplined enough defense to stop Virginia for 40 minutes. The Orange probably won’t shoot 5-of-23 from 3 again like last game, and that will send this one down to the wire. It’s impossible to deny that three of SU’s best games of the season have now come in a row, but Virginia is the definition of consistency in this conference for the last four years for a reason.
A win would be enough to secure a tournament spot. The Orange come close, but come up just short of knocking off top-seed Virginia. The Cavaliers advance, and the Orange wait to potentially hear their name called on Sunday. I have a feeling that it will be.
Danny Emerman (15-9)
Sweating it out
Virginia 78, Syracuse 70
Virginia picked apart SU’s zone last matchup, placing guard Kihei Clark at the high-post and letting him decide possessions. It was a stroke of brilliant coaching, and SU had no answers. Maybe it does now. SU’s defense has held every opponent it’s faced in March to under 40% shooting from the field. There’s something about the postseason that makes teams see ghosts when they should just see the Orange zone.
I don’t expect that to happen to UVA. Bennett is too good of a coach, and the Cavaliers’ offense — ranked 13th nationally by KenPom — is too efficient. Syracuse peaking at the turn of March doesn’t mean it’s quite good enough to upset the Cavaliers. It’ll mean SU fans will have to sweat Selection Sunday out, sitting on their couches and biting their nails.
One note to watch: Jim Boeheim hinted after the NC State win that UVA could be a better matchup for Kadary Richmond than NC State was. The Cavaliers’ pack-line defense runs shooters off the arc, but could yield itself to more dribble penetration from the perimeter — where Richmond thrives and Joe Girard III struggles. The Orange need as much production as they can get between the two of them.
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