Virginia Tech faces Syracuse on New Year’s Eve to kick off conference play, looking to duplicate the results over the last two seasons where the Hokies have won 10 ACC games in each year. The Hokies have won each of their last two conference openers, but they have not won in Syracuse since the first ever meeting between these two teams back in 1976.
To preview the opponent, we reached out to James Szuba of Nunes Magician for a little help.
Gobbler Country: Tyus Battle has emerged as the primary offensive threat with both the Gillon and Lydon departures. How has he been so effective this season, and do you expect that to continue?
James Szuba: Tyus has done a really nice job scoring the ball from all three levels this season. He's taken on the job of No. 1 option well and he's not afraid to call his own number. Syracuse needs Battle to score and he understands that.
GC: As a whole, do you think Syracuse’s offense will have success against a so-so Hokies’ defense? If so, where is the key mismatch?
JS: I wouldn't bet the ranch on it. Syracuse has really struggled from the offensive end lately with only three guys doing the heavy lifting between Tyus, Oshae Brissett and Frank Howard. The latter of the three is more passer than scorer, so that speaks to Syracuse's ability to score, or lack thereof.
GC: What would you say are the keys to the game for Syracuse?
JS: Syracuse needs to defend the three first and foremost. The Orange are thin up front now with Bourama Sidibe in question for the rest of the season, so depth has become a factor too. Syracuse needs to stay out of foul trouble and look to take advantage on the offensive end when it can.
GC: The Orange are currently a Top 20 RPI team. How has the season gone so far, is it what most people expected, and what have been the highs and lows?
JS: I'd say Syracuse is slightly ahead of schedule at 11-2. Realistically, 11-2 is probably a little better than what could have been expected. The highs were taking down Maryland early, UConn at MSG and a thriller against Georgetown in DC. The low would have to be the loss to Bonaventure but that's not necessarily a bad loss.
GC: Syracuse has rebounded nearly 40 percent of their missed shots this season. Why have they been so successful on the offensive glass?
JS: Syracuse is the tallest team in the country, per Ken Pom. Height helps. Oshae has been phenomenal on the glass all season and Marek Dolezaj is hustle personified. Syracuse has also crashed the offensive glass fairly well. That and the center position has done a decent job rebounding out of the middle of the zone.
GC: Prediction: who wins and why?
JS: I'll go with Virginia Tech just based on its ability to space the floor, stretch the zone and score the ball. Syracuse will struggle to get stops in stretches and to score the ball on the other end. VT by 3 possessions.
We would like to thank James for joining us here at Gobbler Country to answer some of our Syracuse related questions.
Be sure to check out our answers regarding the Hokies over on Nunes Magician. You can find that piece here.