ELITE 8 PREVIEW: What you need to know about Virginia vs. Syracuse

(Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP)

WHEN: Sunday March 27th, 6:09 p.m.

WHERE: United Center, Chicago, Il.

MAJOR STORYLINES: Is this the year that Tony Bennett finally makes it to a Final Four? Virginia, over the course of the last three seasons, has been arguably the best program in all of college basketball. Two ACC regular season titles, two No. 1 seeds, a No. 2 seed, an ACC tournament title. But the problem? Their three NCAA tournament wins this season doubles the total number of NCAA tournament wins that Bennett has landed in that time. As everyone knows, the only way to prove yourself in the eyes of the general public is to perform during the NCAA tournament.

On the other side of things, Syracuse is looking to get back to their first Final Four since 2013 and just their second Final Four since winning the national title in 2003. And this one would come a year after the Orange had to deal with a self-imposed postseason ban that came from their own athletic department.

KEY MATCHUP: Malcolm Brogdon vs. the zone. How does Virginia get shots for Malcolm Brogdon? He’s at his best when Tony Bennett puts him in off-ball screening actions and lets Brogdon read those screens. It’s not as easy to do that against a zone, and Brogdon is unequivocally the best scorer on Virginia.

X-FACTOR: Virginia’s offensive rebounding. Everyone always talks about three-point shooting when it comes to being able to beat the Syracuse zone, but that’s not where the real damage gets done. They have such length and the back-line of their zone starts so high that it makes it difficult to get clean looks at the rim. The sacrifice that Syracuse makes, then, is that they allow opponents to get to the offensive glass. Virginia isn’t a great offensive rebounding team but they do have a pair of excellent offensive rebounders in Mike Tobey and Anthony Gill. How many second chances will they create?

POINT SPREAD: Virginia -8


  1. How does Virginia’s high-low game work?: There are two spots that are generally left open against Syracuse’s zone: the high-post and the short-corner. The best way to attack this defense is to get the ball into those pockets of space, get the defensive to collapse and pass out of it. Will Gill and Tobey be able to make those passes?
  2. What does Michael Gbinije do against Malcolm Brogdon?: Silent G is the best offensive weapon that the Orange have at their disposal, which means that he is going to be tasked with trying to beat Malcolm Brogdon, who may be the best one-on-one defender in the country. Gbinije’s the guy that makes the Syracuse offense tick. Who wins that battle will be influential in who wins this game.
  3. Is Tyler Lydon making shots?: Lydon the x-factor for the Orange. He’s a shot-blocker at the back of the Syracuse zone while also a three-point shooter that makes the Orange hard to guard. Is he making those shots? Can he rebound against Virginia’s older, stronger front line?

CBT PREDICTION: Virginia rolls Syracuse to get to Tony Bennett’s first Final Four.