Two surprising teams have emerged as contenders to win the ACC this season. Both the Syracuse Orange and the Virginia Tech Hokies were expected to finish in the middle of the pack this season, but both teams have performed better than expected to this point. Virginia Tech finished with just one loss in non-conference play, while Syracuse has arguably the most impressive win in the country after knocking off Duke in Durham. Both teams seem likely to make the NCAA Tournament, and they are optimistic about their chances to challenge Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia for the conference crown.
There are no injuries or suspensions to report for Syracuse.
Virginia Tech has not been so fortunate. Freshman Landers Nolley II and senior Chris Clarke were both declared ineligible this season. The Hokies were holding out hope that Nolley would eventually become eligible, since he was expected to be a part of Tech’s rotation. However, questions about his ACT score have surfaced and he will have to sit out the year. Meanwhile, Clarke has been suspended for a violation of team rules, and it seems unlikely he will return to the program. Reserve forward PJ Horne has been declared out for this game too.
The oddsmakers have the Hokies listed as six-point favorites ahead of tonight’s game. The over/under is set at 135 points.
What’s at Stake?
Just one month ago, it appeared as if Syracuse would be fortunate to make it to the NCAA Tournament. The Orange had a tough time in non-conference play losing to Buffalo, Old Dominion, Connecticut, and Oregon, and their only good win came against Ohio State.
However, they are now tied for first place in the conference with a 5-1 record in ACC play. Syracuse seems to have turned a corner, as it has defeated every conference opponent other than Duke by at least eight points, although a 14-point loss at home to Georgia Tech looks pretty bad.
Looking at their resume, I’m a little surprised that Virginia Tech was ranked in the AP Top Ten this week. The Hokies went 11-1 in non-conference play, but their only good win came against Purdue and they lost to a Penn State team that has fallen off a cliff. They have taken care of business against the weaker teams in the ACC, but Tech lost by 20-plus to both Virginia and North Carolina. The Hokies are now entering the brunt of conference play, and a home loss here could be the sign of a potential collapse.
Virginia Tech will have more rest than Syracuse coming into tonight’s tilt. The Hokies last played on Monday night, while the Orange hosted Miami on Thursday and will have just one day off. This is the only time these teams are scheduled to meet this season.
It will be strength versus strength when Virginia Tech has possession. The Hokies have a top ten offense according to Ken Pomeroy, and the team has been very efficient from the floor. They are sinking nearly 50 percent of their field goals and more than 42 percent of their three-point attempts this year, but they were flustered the one time they played an elite defense.
The Orange are using more players than they have in recent years, but they are heavily reliant on three players. Tyus Battle, Elijah Hughes, and Oshae Brissett are logging big minutes, and the quick turnaround time could lead to fatigue. These are key cogs in the 2-3 Zone though, as Brissett has the size and length to turn away bigger plays, while Battle and Hughes have the size that Boeheim covets in guards.
Syracuse has struggled on offense. The Orange can’t hit the three, and they have been largely inefficient from the floor this season. Much of their offense revolves around getting to the line, and they are averaging over 22 free throw attempts per game.
I think the over is the best bet here. The Orange are going to be a little worn down on defense, and that will lead to the Hokies scoring more often than they would have otherwise. Syracuse will get a lot of points at the line with the clock stopped too, putting this game in the 140s.