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Virginia Tech at Syracuse: Keys to the Game and Prediction

Hunter Cattoor 1 VT Duke 2023 ES
Photo Credit: Erin Smith

The Virginia Tech Hokies are back on the road, this time traveling to upstate New York to face the Syracuse Orange in the JMA Wireless Dome.

Syracuse has been playing solid basketball as of late, winning three of their last four, including a solid victory over NC State and a huge win versus North Carolina. The Orange, at 18-10, remain on the outside looking in, ranked #85 in the NET, making every game they play at this point a must win.

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech has been very up and down, losing five of their last seven contests, but picking up an impressive 34-point victory against the Virginia Cavaliers, who are currently one of the five ACC teams in the projected NCAA Tournament field. At just 15-12 on the season and coming off a 15-point loss at Pittsburgh, it’s becoming clear that the Hokies won’t be able to count on an at-large bid for the purposes of getting into the NCAA Tournament so the focus now is on getting the best seed possible for the ACC Tournament.

Keys to the Game

Matchup of the game: Hunter Cattoor vs Chris Bell

Hunter Cattoor and Chris Bell play very similar roles as the pure sharpshooters of their respective squads. Bell knocks down 2.7 threes per game at a 42.7% clip, while Cattoor knocks down 2.6 threes per game at 42.4%, both ranking top six in the ACC in both three-point percentage and makes. This game has a chance to come down to these two sharpshooters, because both Bell and Cattoor have the ability to get hot and single-handedly take over a game.

Cattoor, the Hokies all time leader in three point shooting, has done this on the biggest stage, draining seven threes on the way to his career high 31 points in the 2022 ACC Championship game versus Duke. Chris Bell, meanwhile, has been lighting it up over the past week, going 8-10 from three-point land last Tuesday in a big win at NC State, before knocking down four of his five attempts in a win over Notre Dame on Saturday.

While these two players may not be the highest scorers on their teams, they have the potential to get in a zone like no one else on the floor, and lead their team to a win if they get hot.

Home Court Advantage

The big differentiator between these two teams, who seem pretty equal on paper, is that Syracuse is at home, where they are 13-2 so far this season. While the Hokies have been equally as dominant on their home floor, they are one of the worst road teams in the entire ACC at 1-8 overall, with their only road win of the season coming at NC State.

As a team that largely relies on three-point shooting and guard play, Virginia Tech has mightily struggled to shoot the ball on the road, a trend that is true for almost every player on the team. On the season, Hunter Cattoor is a 51% three point shooter at home, compared to below 40% on the road. Tyler Nickel shoots 44% from deep at home, and below 41% on the road, and Sean Pedulla knocks down 42% of his field goals at home, to just 38% on the road. Even starting center Lynn Kidd falls victim to these struggles, as he shoots 71% at home and 50% on the road.

If the Hokies can break the trend and pick up a win away from Cassell Coliseum, they will need their scorers to step up and knock down shots tonight against the Orange.

What Version of the Hokies Will Show Up?

Throughout the season, Virginia Tech has displayed anything but consistency, dropping games to teams such as Notre Dame, then blowing out a tournament caliber team like UVA.

While the Hokies have had good performances throughout the season, the question Mike Young must be asking himself is what changed in the 34-point win over Virginia, and how can they get back to playing at that level.

Offensively, Virginia Tech moved the ball all around the court, getting Kidd and Mylyjael Poteat dunks in the paint, as well as getting shooters such as Nickel and Cattoor open looks from long range. In other games throughout the year, the offense feels much more stagnant and completely reliant on a Sean Pedulla pick and roll.

Even defensively, the Hokies beat Virginia’s shooters to spots as they ran around screens, forcing the Hoos to force up contested shots late in the shot clock. While shots won’t go in every game like they did versus UVA, Mike Young needs to find that team that absolutely dismantled one of the top basketball programs in the ACC, if the Hokies are going to be able to get a win tonight, and make a deep run in the ACC Tournament.

Prediction: Syracuse 79, Virginia Tech 72

The Hokies road woes will continue, as continued sharpshooting from Chris Bell and 20+ points from Judah Mintz will help the Orange overcome a 15+ point performance from MJ Collins. Syracuse will live to see another day, giving themselves an opportunity to return to the bubble if they can get a win at Clemson to end the season. Meanwhile, the Hokies will be doomed to an NIT appearance, barring an ACC Tournament run like they had in 2022 when they lifted the title in Brooklyn.

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