Syracuse Basketball Opens New Year With Conference Clash Against Virginia
SU basketball is red-hot after wins against Brown and Cornell earlier this week. WAER's Will Hentschel details how Syracuse now shifts its focus to a New Year’s Day conference bout with Virginia.
Syracuse men’s basketball is done with it’s non-conference schedule. After a pair of strong wins against Ivy Leaguers Brown and Cornell earlier this week, SU shifts its focus solely to ACC play.
Batting leadoff against Syracuse in its conference slate is Virginia. The Cavaliers (7-5, 1-1 ACC) and Orange (7-5, 1-0 ACC) share similar records, but recent play paints a picture of two very distinct teams.
While SU was losing to Colgate for the first time since the 60s and folding at the Battle 4 Atlantis, UVA’s four-game win streak around Thanksgiving bolstered the Cav’s to 5-2. Since that win against Lehigh, it has been an up-down stretch for the 2019 National Champions. Virginia notched their opening ACC win against Pittsburgh, but losses to Iowa, James Madison and Clemson highlighted a rocky finish to 2021. Now, on the first day of the new year, the Cavaliers look to advance past .500 in conference play.
Virginia has history on its side against Syracuse. In the 16 meetings between the two institutions, UVA holds a 10-6 advantage. Fresh in the memory of most Orange fans is the last meeting against the Cavaliers in last year's ACC Tournament. Reece Beekman drilled a buzzer-beating three-pointer for Virginia to lift his team to a 72-69 win, ending the ‘Cuse’s tournament run.
The now sophomore Beekman averages a tick over seven points a game and is UVA’s leader in minutes played with 33 a game.
The Virginia offense is spearheaded by forward Jayden Gardner. He leads the Cavaliers with 177 points through 12 games, and does most of his work from the field. Gardner is one of the nations top-50 shooters from the field at 57.85%. The senior Gardner played his first three seasons of college ball at East Carolina, where he made American Athletic Conference first team his junior year while averaging 18 points per game in conference play. Gardner had a stretch last year where he scored 20 points in five consecutive games.
But offense isn’t the only side of the Virginia game that should worry Syracuse. Defensively, the Cavalier’s are one of the most tenacious teams in the conference. They lead the ACC in blocked shots per game with 5.6. That’s all thanks to 6’11'' North Carolina native Kadin Shedrick, who is 16th in the nation in total blocks with 35. Mid Range shooters will have a difficult time finding space with Shedrick nearby.
Behind it all is a stellar coach. The Cavaliers are led by 13-year Head Coach Tony Bennett. The three-time National Coach of the year has accumulated a 302-108 record during his time in Charlottesville. That includes a dominant .704 win rate against ACC foes.
One thing Syracuse can look forward to tomorrow is Virginia’s three-point defense. Or lack thereof. The Cavaliers let teams shoot nearly 33% from deep against them. So far this season, teams playing UVA posted 246 points from threes. That is music to the ears of Buddy Boeheim, Joe Girard, and Cole Swider. Those three combined to shoot 16-31 from behind the arc in this week's matchups against Brown and Cornell.
Virginia has its deadly weapons, but also its Achilles heel, and Syracuse is riding the hot hand. SU and UVA look to get the New Year started right with an ACC win under the Dome roof. Opening tip is tomorrow night at 6:00. Be sure to tune into WAER at 5:30 for GZA Countdown to Tipoff.