New York State In-depth

Beat writers are unsure if Syracuse can defeat Virginia Tech again

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Syracuse almost upset North Carolina Tuesday night, but after allowing a putback layup after a missed free throw and a flagrant foul on Judah Mintz, UNC pulled through, helped by strong performances from Armando Bacot and Pete Nance in the paint. Jim Boeheim walked off the podium annoyed by a question. Mintz gave one-word replies with reporters swarming around him in the dressing room. The Orange played their most intense matchup, narrowly missing out on the Atlantic Coast Conference win.

Now they’re going to Virginia Tech to recover from the loss and wrap up the season’s streak against the Hokies with two wins. On January 11, SU won arguably their most impressive game of the season with an 82-72 home win, but caught VT in the midst of a seven-game losing streak.

Here’s what our beat writers believe on Saturday when Syracuse takes on the Hokies.

Anish Vasudevan (18-3)
Hokie down
Syracuse 70, Virginia Tech 66

North Carolina’s loss could be viewed as a positive or negative for SU. Connor sees it as the latter, I see it as the former. The Orange fought off the Tar Heels from a 10-point deficit, using some key baskets from Mintz and Chris Bell late on to keep the game in play. Syracuse could easily have fallen apart on either side of the floor, but this isn’t the team that got embarrassed in December. Now, with 10 games left in the year, Syracuse is ready to play.

The Orange already know how to defeat the Hokies, although in the previous duel the teams did without Hunter Cattoor. Cattoor will be a threat from deep, but Syracuse has devised a quick fix to defensively stop teams from deep. If the wings can keep pushing up, and if Mintz can keep getting his hand in the passing lanes, Syracuse just needs to win the fight on the other side of the ground.

Bell had another strong game and this is the perfect opportunity to string together consecutive outstanding performances. Mintz was stumped at the end of the game, but when the ball goes back to him in crunch time, he’s shown he can get to his point and get a timed shot. Add that to the offensive veterans of Joe Girard III and Jesse Edwards, this should give Syracuse some much-needed momentum ahead of a final matchup against Virginia Tech’s in-state rivals.

Connor Smith (18-3)
One loss becomes two
Virginia Tech 68, Syracuse 62

Tuesday’s loss to North Carolina was the kind of loss that can ruin a season. Syracuse had its best win of the season — one that would be exceptionally large at the start of creating an NCAA tournament resume — right in its hands, less than a minute into the game. We all know what happened next. Girard dived for a loose ball that resulted in a game-winning UNC layup and Mintz was called out for two fouls that weren’t actually fouls.

For most teams, especially those run by underclassmen like this year’s SU team, it’s a tough loss to recover from. And while the Orange outplayed their next opponent, Virginia Tech, two weeks ago, I think the Hokies will win this one and hand Syracuse their second straight loss. Cattoor is back for VT, as is his team-leading 3-point toss mark of 41.1%. The Hokies couldn’t hit anything from deep last time they played SU, but with Cattoor back in the lineup, they can now expand the zone and diversify their offense.

I still think the Oranges play good basketball and their defense and forwards in particular have really improved over the past few weeks. Girard also plays like an absolute goalscorer. But with Virginia Tech finally out of their losing streak after Monday’s win over Duke, Cattoor back in the lineup, and Tuesday’s loss still on the minds of this Syracuse team, I expect the Hokies to come out on top .

Anthony Alandt (14-7)
Virginia Tech 79, Syracuse 70

Man, that was close. A bitter defeat for Syracuse – once again – because the Orange’s inexperience made the best of them. You don’t need to answer Boeheim – it’s pretty clear Syracuse can’t finish big games, a product that dates back to the start of the season. That’s fine as Connor said above the Oranges are still playing very well and have a young core which compliments Girard and Edwards. It’s really hard to win consistently in the ACC, and Syracuse is quick to embrace that reality week in and week out.

The last time Syracuse played Virginia Tech, the Hokies caught it in the middle of a seven-game slingshot in the first of three straight games. They were without a cattoor and a late run by Orange gave them the win at the JMA Wireless Dome. This time around, VT picked up a narrow victory over a struggling Duke team as they welcome a fiery Syracuse team still reeling from the loss to North Carolina. With adjusted efficiency ranked 41st in the country and an effective field goal rate of 53.1%, the Hokies offense should be able to come out early and repel the Orange.

Syracuse will almost certainly be slowly coming out of the gates, possibly still distracted by the Tar Heels’ loss on Tuesday. A lot of things have to be right for the Orange to win – Maliq Brown, good shooting from Girard, strong physical play from Bell, even play for Mintz. I just don’t see all of these things happening.

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