Saturday, March 26, 2016

game preview: Syracuse


Date/Time: Sunday, March 27; 6:09

TV: TBS

Record against the Orange: 4-3

Last meeting: UVA 73, SU 65; 1/24/16, Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 84, ISU 71 (3/25); SU 63, GU 60 (3/25)

KenPom:

Tempo:
UVA: 61.6 (#351)
SU: 65.3 (#324)

Offense:
UVA: 119.2 (#8)
SU: 110.7 (#53)

Defense:
UVA: 91.5 (#4)
SU: 94.8 (#19)

Pythag:
UVA: .9544 (#1)
SU: .8560 (#28)

Projected lineups:

Virginia:

PG: London Perrantes (10.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.5 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (18.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.0 apg)
SG: Devon Hall (4.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.9 apg)
SF: Isaiah Wilkins (4.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.4 apg)
PF: Anthony Gill (13.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 0.8 apg)

Syracuse:

PG: Trevor Cooney (12.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.3 apg)
SG: Malachi Richardson (13.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.2 apg)
SF: Michael Gbinije (17.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.3 apg)
SF: Tyler Lydon (10.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.2 apg)
PF: Tyler Roberson (9.0 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.4 apg)

The first five S16 games went by with minimum suspense.  That included UVA, which toyed with the idea of blowing the Iowa State game on a couple occasions but dismissed the idea each time.  UNC was always going to roll Indiana, so that left ND-Wiscy and SU-GU to try and inject a little drama into the proceedings.  They didn't disappoint.  Syracuse spent most of their game looking destined to fall a little short, until the fact that Gonzaga only played six guys caught up to them, and the Cuse snatched up the trip to the E8.  ND did the same thing to Wisconsin, and now the ACC is guaranteed two slots in the Final Four - no more, and no fewer.

For UVA, it means a familiar opponent in a game for the right to put up a banner.  Syracuse's inclusion in the tournament elicited a "WUT" from a CBS talkinghead during the Selection Show upon announcement, and now they're halfway to the big prize.  They've taken a slightly nontraditional route.  Having been the direct beneficiary of possibly the biggest upset in tourney history is lucky but irrelevant - it still means they took care of business when other teams didn't.

The last time these two teams played, it was a closer UVA win than the score indicated, but UVA was scratching its way out of an early-season hole and the chemistry experiment was only just falling into place.  Syracuse ended the year on a 1-5 low note, but three straight wins have erased those memories.  This time of year, everyone who's left is riding high.

-- UVA on offense

All about that 2-3 zone.  Probably no defensive scheme is so well-associated with one team as the Syracuse 2-3 zone.  It can be tough to attack because it's so packed-in, but UVA's familiarity with it can only help.

Like Iowa State, Syracuse is a thin team.  Five starters who play 30+ minutes, and two bench guys, and that's it.  And like Iowa State, this necessitates a minimum of fouling, though the zone and a slow tempo help in that regard.  Syracuse is good at keeping out of foul trouble, with heavy assistance of the above two factors.  They're also "good at free throw defense" - because it's so hard to drive against the zone, most of their fouls are committed on big men.

There are two primary ways to attack the zone: Shoot over top of it, or try to catch them over-rotating and get to the middle near the free-throw line.  UVA used both to good effect in their last win, with 44.4% three-point shooting and 7-for-11 shooting from Anthony Gill.  Gill is a tremendous weapon against the 2-3 because he's at his best when he can face the bucket with a little room, and bull-rush the hoop.  When he gets the ball just under the free-throw line, he's one dribble from the bucket and almost unstoppable.  This is easy to do against the 2-3 because of where the defenders are positioned, especially if the center has been caught on one side of the lane.

Another defining characteristic of the zone is its propensity to give up offensive rebounds.  Players in a zone aren't tracking a particular player, so boxing out is complicated.  Getting in position to do so usually means abandoning your zone.  Over the years, Syracuse's defensive rebounding has ranged from kind of bad to completely horrible.  It's at the latter end of the spectrum this year.  UVA only got four offensive boards in the regular-season game against Cuse, but Mike Tobey has been on a mission lately and recently destroyed ISU, Butler, and Miami on the offensive glass.

And there will be a role for Tobey.  A very big one.  Neither Tyler Roberson or DaJuan Coleman range far from the rim, so Tony will feel free to use Tobey without a concern for matchup problems.  Syracuse doesn't fast-break much and they need to collapse hard on the glass to rebound, so the new Rampage version of Mike Tobey we've seen in postseason play could be in for yet another big game, mucking it up on the offensive glass.  Even in the loss, Gonzaga's Domantas Sabonis was a complete wrecking ball, with 19 points and 17 boards.  Using Tobey to bludgeon Cuse into submission will go a long way.

-- UVA on defense

Last time we met, on the JPJ hardwood, Cuse kept things close because Michael Gbinije and Malachi Richardson went absolutely nuts from three, combining to shoot 11-for-19 from deep.  It's really been only since then that Malcolm Brogdon went ham on the defensive end, and his work on Gbinije this time around will be critical.

I think it's safe to guess that'll be the matchup.  Trevor Cooney is nominally the point guard, but Gbinije has taken over the primary ballhandling role as more of a point forward.  He'll take any shot on the court, and is a tremendously adept passer.  He'll also play almost every minute and make his defender work hard for all of them, so it won't be 100% Malcolm, but still.

Syracuse has a bit of a love affair with shooting the three - 42.5% of their shots are from deep.  That said, only four of their seven guys will ever shoot one.  Gbinije and Tyler Lydon are reasonably dangerous 40% shooters; Cooney and Richardson can get hot but are about average overall.  (Cooney in particular has never been the least bit shy to let them fly, and can look alternately like J.J. Redick or a no-thought brickheaver at any given moment.)

Inside the arc, though, Syracuse is a below-average team.  Cooney and Richardson are both sub-40% shooters from two, and Cuse doesn't have anyone above 60%.  The last time UVA faced a team without a guy shooting 60% from two was the NC State game.  They shot more threes than twos in our last game and kept it close only because of those threes from Richardson and Gbinije.

There's plenty of talent on this team, and they go six deep with high-quality basketball players.  (Franklin Howard is the seventh rotation guy, and he scares nobody.)  And Cuse put up a hell of a fight against Gonzaga and saw their efforts pay off.  They scrapped impressively hard.  But - and you knew this paragraph would have a But - neither do they have anyone who UVA hasn't already figured out how to stop.  There's no Georges Niang running around.  There might not even be an Andrew Chrabascz.  Syracuse's game plan will be to fling away from three and hope they go down.  They might, and that would be a fairly big problem.  But there isn't much other alternative.

-- Outlook

I hate what I'm about to do.  Getting too cocky at this time of year has a way of making you look like an ass, and yes I know I'm not the one on the court but that makes it worse because all I can do is flap my gums and hope someone else makes me look smart.

But here's the deal.  Syracuse is a razor-thin team, and laid it all on the court just to beat an even thinner team that used exactly one sub.  I was nervous to potentially face Gonzaga, because of Wiltjer and Sabonis, but even had they gotten through, Syracuse made them look pretty average.  But they looked pretty average in doing so themselves.

Meanwhile, UVA is locked in, and completely in tune with Tony Bennett.  Tony told them, "Don't tiptoe through this game" before they faced Iowa State, and before the Cyclones could get their wits about them they were down 17-3.

If Syracuse wins, the story will inevitably be about what an incredibly scrappy bunch the Orange are, playing with a chip on their shoulder after being told they didn't belong, and taking it out on the Big Bad in the bracket.  And that could happen.  It's happened before.  But Syracuse feels much more like a team with the needle on E.

Final score: UVA 72, SU 54

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