By Mychal Hunter
Anyone who follows this blog knows, who am I huge on? The Hokies. Who am I not quite sold on? The Orange. I finally had the opportunity to watch this match-up from Sunday and boy let me tell you, Virginia Tech is gonna fall some spots in this weeks power rankings.
Syracuse is a team that, when Taurean Thompson left, I thought was going to really struggle on both ends of the floor due to a plethora of unproven players at key roster spots. So far this season, most of those players, most notably Frank Howard and Oshae Brissett, have turned out to be pretty steady plays on the offensive end and fucking nightmares on the defensive end. Howard’s length at the top of that zone (2.1 spg) and Brissett’s rebounding out of the zone (21.1% DReb %), have led this Syracuse team to an impressive 12-2 (1-0) start to the season. While Brissett is only shooting 26% from deep, the Orange seem to have found a way to salvage just enough offense by pounding the ball inside and using mid range jumpers up to this point.
The offense however, is not what is winning these games, the defense is playing like a group possessed. The Orange currently rank in the top 30 in steals (27th), blocks (10th) and opponents points per game (18th). Junior center Paschal Chukwu is averaging 3.3 blocks per game anchoring that 2-3 zone to go along with Howard’s excellent thievery skills on the perimeter.
As far as the Hokies go, they came into this game as one of the best offensive teams I have seen so far this season. This Virginia Tech squad however, is the quintessential “live by the three, die by the three” team, ranking 54th in the country in triples made. The combination of this reliance with an opponent that has the length of Syracuse, can, and did, spell disaster for Virginia Tech.
The other troubling thing I noticed in this game, and was quite confused by, was VPI’s apparent lack of interest in this game, especially in the first half where they scored only 19 points. The team looked like Carl Crawford after signing a contract with the Red Sox, simply disinterested, which is troubling for a team on the rise who is trying to break into the top 25 playing in their first league game.
I am willing to chalk this game up to an up and coming team on the road where everything went wrong. When Robinson, Bibbs, Hill and Clarke go a combined 9-35 the Hokies will never win that game. Not ever, no way. Not my couch not my problem. That said, Syracuse is for real, I intend to talk about Tyus Battle this weekend on the podcast but as a little preview of my thoughts, he might be the best all around scorer in the ACC. Let me also clarify, when I say Syracuse is for real, I mean that they are a bubble team. I don’t expect them to burn through the ACC by any means but with the way this team plays defense I think a 20-11 (9-9) finish is definitely within the realm of possibilities.
Something of note, Matthew Moyer recorded his first career double double in this game and was incredibly efficient while playing 37 minutes. If Coach Boeheim can get something consistently out of Moyer, who has been pretty disappointing so far, that makes Syracuse that much better on a front line that, other than Brissett, has been fairly inconsistent.