Syracuse Basketball: Observations – good and bad – from win over Hokies

Syracuse basketball (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)
Syracuse basketball (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images) /

Syracuse basketball has now won eight of its last 10 games, after the Orange picked up perhaps its best victory of the 2022-23 season on Wednesday night in defeating Virginia Tech at home by 10 points.

Heading into this Atlantic Coast Conference showdown, the ‘Cuse stood at No. 131 in the NCAA’s NET rankings, while the Hokies were at No. 50. To my knowledge, Virginia Tech is the high-rated squad in the NET ratings that Syracuse basketball has conquered to date in 2022-23.

After the Orange’s 82-72 defeat of the Hokies, the ‘Cuse climbed to No. 118 in the NET rankings, while the Hokies fell to No. 58 at the time of this writing. As we discussed in another recent column, given the Orange’s weak non-conference strength of schedule, Syracuse basketball (11-6, 4-2 in the ACC ) will need to pile up high-quality conference triumphs to bolster its resume.

Knocking off a solid Virginia Tech group (11-6, 1-5) is a good first start. Up next, the ‘Cuse will host Notre Dame on Saturday, Jan. 14, beginning at 7 pm and airing on the ACC Network. In early December, the Orange beat the Fighting Irish on the road, 62-61.

What went right – and wrong – for Syracuse basketball in its 10-point victory over Virginia Tech.

The Orange shot well from the field
Against the Hokies, per ESPN data, the ‘Cuse connected on 50.8 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from beyond the arc. That’s excellent. What’s more, the Orange didn’t hoist up a ton of 3-point attempts, going 8-of-16 from deep.

It’s important for the ‘Cuse to connect on a decent amount of 3-pointers, and at a strong clip, but Syracuse basketball is at its best when it is attacking the rim and scoring easy buckets out in transition after turning over its opponents.

Joe Girard III had himself a game
Senior shooting guard Joe Girard III paced the Orange with 24 points, and he hit on 10-of-20 shots from the field and 3-of-7 from long range. He added three assists and two steals. Per SU Athletics, Girard has reached double-figures in scoring 10 times in a row.

The Virginia freshmen were awesome
Freshman forward Maliq Brown recorded his first double-double in a ‘Cuse uniform. The three-star player in the 2022 class tallied 11 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block in 34 minutes. He was 5-of-7 from the field.

His good friend, freshman wing and 2022 four-star prospect Justin Taylor, produced 10 points, two rebounds and one block in in 28 minutes. He went 3-of-6 from the field and 2-of-3 from downtown. Both Taylor and Brown hail from Virginia. They’ve known each other for a long time. And they have bright futures on the Hill.

Jesse Edwards bounces back
After only scoring four points in a seven-point loss at then-No. 11 Virginia last weekend, senior center Jesse Edwards had some issues on defense, but he was quite good on offense against the Hokies. He had 13 points, nine boards, six assists, one steal and two blocks.

Starting forwards don’t do much
A lot of my fellow Syracuse basketball fans are ready to see Brown and Taylor inserted into the starting line-up. That’s fair. To me, it’s not who starts, but it’s who finishes these games that matter the most.

In any event, starting forwards Benny Williams, a sophomore, and Chris Bell, a freshman, combined for just 18 minutes, seven points and four rebounds versus the Hokies. To be fair, Williams had missed the previous game due to an illness, but I could envision Brown and Taylor consistently playing more in the near future.

Free throws – ouch
The Orange was exquisite from the field and from 3-point land, but the ‘Cuse didn’t fare well from the charity stripe against the Hokies. Syracuse basketball went 14-of-22 overall, which is a paltry 63.6 percent. Surprisingly, Girard, one of the best free-throw shooters ever for the Orange, connected on just 1-of-4. That won’t do.

Too many turnovers continue
Prior to facing Virginia Tech, the Orange had a combined 31 turnovers in going 1-1 on the road versus Louisville and UVA. The ‘Cuse, for the entirety of 2022-23, is averaging about 12 turnovers per contest, and Syracuse basketball committed 12 miscues in its win over the Hokies.

With a relatively young roster that includes six freshmen and a total of eight underclassmen, mistakes are going to occur. But the Orange really needs to do its best to clean things up in the turnover department.

Defense, by and large, was good
The ‘Cuse zone defense held Virginia Tech slightly below its 2022-23 season average. The Hokies made only 43.3 percent of their field-goal attempts and an awful 15.8 percent from beyond the arc.

Syracuse basketball won the battle on the glass by one rebound, forced 11 turnovers, had seven steals and boasted six blocks. I’m not prognosticating that the 2022-23 ‘Cuse defense is stellar, but simultaneously, it has shown signs of improvement and promise.

With this outcome, the Orange moved to 12-6 in its all-time series with the Hokies. I felt that Syracuse basketball did a lot of positive stuff in coming away with a 10-point victory against Virginia Tech.

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