Elite 8 Pick
The ACC is taking over, for better or for worse. Virginia and Syracuse meet for the second time this season, but this time in the Elite 8. They met in Charlottesville back in late January with the Cavaliers winning 73-65. These teams are a bit different since then.
Syracuse has to be fretting this matchup as the Orange have rode their suffocating zone defense up to this point after most recently coming back to take down Gonzaga late in the Game. But the teams that know this zone the best? The ACC. The Orange lost five of their final six Games in Conference play and it’s not like those Games were against the best of competition.
Meanwhile, Virginia has dominated ACC play the last three years and this is right up its wheelhouse, especially a team like Syracuse. The Cavaliers got out to an early lead against Iowa State last round and never looked back, destroying the Cyclones’ press late in the Game.
The first time these teams met, the Game went as expected. Virginia had an eight-point halftime lead with Syracuse making a run late in the second half until the Hoos eventually pulled away at the end. against the zone, it was the usual suspects for Virginia with London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon hitting a combined seven threes, while Anthony Gill worked the top of the key and the paint and dropped 16 points. There’s no reason that’s not going to work again because that’s how the secretly efficient Virginia offense always plays.
To make matters tougher for Syracuse, Mike Tobey is probably playing his best basketball of the season, now with 28 points in the last two Games. He and Gill will be important at breaking apart the middle of the zone. Marial Shayok is another guy that has seen a lot of minutes as of late off the bench for Virginia. He may be the best player at taking defenders off the dribble on the team and only played five minutes in the first meeting. He’s played 47 minutes the last two Games.
For the Orange to win this Game, they’ll need to hit shots, which mostly goes without saying. They went 13-of-30 from distance in that first Game. Because it’s hard to see them making more than that, they will need to be more efficient from inside the arc, most importantly bigger guys like Tyler Roberson and Tyler Lydon, who combined to go 3-of-9 from 2-point land last meeting.
Michael Gbinije, Trevor Cooney and Malachi Richardson will take their shots, but to win this Game, all three will have to make them. Cooney struggled in the first meeting going just 3-of-13 from the field. But will that change in this Game against one of the better defenses in the country? It doesn’t help Syracuse that Richardson has been cold from the field, going 4-of-21 in the last two Games after dropping 21 in the first round. Richardson will see a lot of Brogdon, ACC’s defensive player of the year, which won’t help the cause.
Richardson was feeling it in the first meeting with Virginia and hit a season-high six 3s. Gbinije will be the key for the Orange, mostly because of his size. Virginia had trouble dealing with the size of Georges Niang last Game, but no one else stepped up for Iowa State.
This spread is hovering around -8 or -9 points and for the Orange to cover or have a chance to win, they’ll need to catch fire from distance. Assuming that won’t happen, this is Virginia’s Game to lose.
Our Pick – Syracuse +8