UVA aims for 16th straight ACC-opening win, hosts Syracuse

By Jerry Ratcliffe

uva Basketball

Photo: UVA Athletics

Virginia will attempt to extend its amazing record in ACC openers this afternoon when the Cavaliers host Syracuse (noon, ESPN2). UVA owns a 15-game winning streak in ACC openers, including the last 14 under Tony Bennett.

Syracuse, 5-2, is a 9.5-point underdog and has won only six times in its 19 clashes with Virginia. This is the first season in the last 47 years that Jim Boeheim won’t be prowling the sidelines for the Orange, having stepped down after last season and being replaced by Adrian Autry.

Both teams are coming off impressive performances in the ACC-SEC Challenge. Syracuse hammered LSU, 80-57, and outscored the Tigers 47-29 in the second half. Virginia, 6-1, defeated No. 14 Texas A&M, 59-47, with all five starters scoring in double figures and all five playing at least 30 minutes in the game.

The Cavaliers forced 16 A&M turnovers and shot 36 percent from the 3-point arc (9 for 25). Virginia is fifth in the ACC in 3-point field-goal percentage at 35.7 and No. 1 in field-goal percentage defense (.346)

Bennett’s ‘Pack-Line’ defense, which held Texas A&M to 30.4-percent shooting and held the Aggies to 30 points under their scoring average, will be faced with another guard who can light up the scoreboard. Syracuse sophomore Judah Mintz scored 33 points against LSU and is averaging 20.4 points per game. He made 9 of 16 field goals (2 for 2 from beyond the arc, 13 of 15 from the free-throw line) against the Tigers. Mintz is shooting 46 percent from the field and a red-hot 43 percent from the 3-point line.

The Orange also boast sophomore forward Chris Bell, who is averaging 14.6 points per game. He posted 20 points in the win over LSU and had a season-high 25 against Colgate.

It will be a homecoming game for Syracuse’s Justin Taylor, who played at St. Anne’s-Belfield, and Maliq Brown, a Culpeper native who attended Blue Ridge School. Taylor had a pair of 3-pointers, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and a blocked shot against LSU, while Brown added 7 points and 9 boards off the bench.

While rebounding remains an issue for the Cavaliers, who are last in the conference in rebounding margin (-5.43) and offensive rebounding, Syracuse hasn’t fared much better. The Orange are 12th in the ACC in rebounding margin (1.29) and last in defensive rebounding.

UVA was outrebounded by Texas A&M, 42-30, but got a 12-point, 5-rebound effort from Ryan Dunn as Bennett went to small ball, starting five guards against the Aggies. Andrew Rohde led UVA with 13 points and 6 rebounds. Dunn, who is off to an impressive start to his sophomore season, is the only player in men’s college basketball over the past 10 years to post 20 blocked shots and 20 steals through seven games, showing his versatility.

The Cavaliers are led by Reece Beekman, who is averaging 11.9 points and 5.7 assists per game as the team’s point guard. Dunn is averaging 10.6 points, Isaac McKneely 9.8 points, Jake Groves (8.6), Rohde (7.0) and Leon Bond (6.6). McKneely is making 48 percent of his 3-point attempts.