No. 9 Virginia prepares for ACC road game against Syracuse
Cavaliers face Syracuse for first time since NCAA tourney loss
Although the No. 9 Virginia men’s basketball team prepares to play an unranked Syracuse opponent, the Cavaliers (17-4, 7-2 ACC) won’t take the game lightly. Traveling to the Carrier Dome to face Syracuse (14-9, 6-4 ACC) will bring back memories of when the two teams met last year in the 2016 NCAA tournament, and the Orange stunned Virginia with an unlikely come-from-behind victory.
The 68-62 win sent Syracuse to the Final Four, defying expectations and robbing Virginia of its opportunity to move beyond the regional final for the first time since 1984.
As the Cavaliers prepare for revenge, they will have to look back at the unpleasant memories of last year’s game.
“That was a beautiful season last year, and we knocked on the door of the Final Four and didn’t get there,” head coach Tony Bennett said. “I always try to watch matchups from last year and so I’m sure I’ll see some painful things at times, but I haven’t really thought about that. I just want to get ready. We have two days to prepare and that’s a tough zone.”
The two days of preparation for the Syracuse game are following a dominant win for the Cavaliers, in which they crushed in-state rival Virginia Tech, 71-48. Junior guard Devon Hall had 17 points and nine rebounds, leading Virginia to pick up a point in Commonwealth Clash.
While Hall’s 17 points against the Hokies (16-6, 5-5 ACC) marked a career high for the guard from Virginia Beach, his defensive contributions were not unnoticed.
“I like how [Hall’s] getting on the glass,” Bennett said. “You can see that. A couple of his shots got blocked, otherwise he was on his way to a double-double and maybe 20-and-10. He’s had to work to guard defensively and his completeness offensively and defensively is showing … When Isaiah [Wilkins] was a five, Devon was a four, that gave us a good look.”
Junior forward Isaiah Wilkins, who had a career-high 15 points against the Hokies attributed Virginia’s ability to hold Virginia Tech to below 50 points to Hall’s defensive efforts.
“It’s crazy, it helps so much,” Wilkins said. “Devon will come fly in and get a rebound. Sometimes he steals my rebound, which is cool as long as he gets it and we can go on and do something fun. It helps me a lot.”
Virginia will be looking for a repeat defensive performance as it looks to face a Syracuse team averaging 77 points per game.
The Orange has won its last three games. Among those victories was a 10-point win over No. 6 Florida State, who defeated the Cavaliers earlier in the season. In that upset win for the Orange, Andrew White III, a graduate transfer guard, tallied 24 points and fellow graduate transfer guard John Gillon had 21 points and 11 assists.
The two guards once again led Syracuse Wednesday night when the team faced NC State. The Orange managed to get a win on the road by defeating the Wolfpack (14-9, 3-7) 100-93 in a thrilling overtime game.
Gillon had a career-high 43 points, shot 90 percent from the three-point line, and made all 14 of his free throws. Gillon’s stellar performance helped the Orange overcome a 16-point deficit and force the game into overtime.
Once overtime started, White III took over the show and scored a majority of the Orange’s remaining points, bringing his total for the night to 28 points, and marking the 22nd time this season he has scored in double figures.
The Cavaliers will certainly have their work cut out from them, but they are confident in their preparations.
“I think we will do some things there,” Wilkins said. “We will try to get to the middle of the zone — same thing that we have done in the past.”
Tip-off is scheduled for noon, and Virginia will then head back to Charlottesville for a rematch with sixth-ranked Louisville Monday night.