Buzz Williams and the Virginia Tech Hokies have played better over the last three games with a win over Pittsburgh, and two close losses at home against Virginia and at Wake Forest. The Hokies should have probably won this past Saturday, but they will likely use this as motivation.
However, they will face a big challenge from Jim Boeheim and the Syracuse Orange in the Carrier Dome.
The Orange enter this game knowing that they can't afford any bad losses right now if they are going to make a strong push to get into the NCAA Tournament. Syracuse's resume lack a big win or a really bad loss so that makes it more important for the Orange to avoid a loss tonight.
However, the Hokies will try to pull off a fairly big upset on the road in front of a fairly loud crowd at the Carrier Dome. The Hokies do not have much experience playing at the Carrier Dome which could be a problem for the youth of the Hokies.
Virginia Tech will be without Will Johnston who had elbow surgery which might be part of the reason for his recent shooting struggles. Johnston is one of the Hokies' hardest working players and one of their top perimeter defenders. The loss of Johnston won't have a big impact, but it definitely hurts the Hokies defensively.
Justin Bibbs had 10 points in his return on Saturday, but did not shoot the ball well which is not a big surprise given the number of games he missed. However, expect Bibbs to continue to improve and increase his minutes from 20 against Wake Forest to about 25-30 minutes against Syracuse.
Rakeem Christmas is one of the best big men in the ACC, and will be a big challenge for whoever guards him tonight. Christmas is averaging 18.4 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks in 33.1 minutes per game this season.
Christian Beyer has been the Hokies' best big man, but his height will mean that the Hokies' best matchup against Beyer is likely Satchel Pierce. Pierce has been showing slow and steady improvement since his playing time increased after the suspension and departure of Joey van Zegeren.
This is not a favorable matchup for Pierce, but he will be able to do a decent job against Christmas. However, this will be a matchup that Christmas will dominate throughout this game. Syracuse forward Tyler Roberson will also do a lot of damage on the glass though he will not do as well as he did in the first meeting between these two teams.
Syracuse is quite thin right now due to injuries, and the Hokies definitely need to try to push the tempo. If Virginia Tech can wear down Syracuse, the Hokies might be able to put up a lot of points late and maybe steal a victory on the road.
The Hokies will have an advantage in the backcourt with Devin Wilson being the better point guard. Virginia Tech is also shooting much better from beyond the arc with a 38.6% three-point shooting percentage compared to Syracuse shooting only 31.8% from beyond the arc.
This will be a good, close game but playing on the road at a place like the Carrier Dome against a Syracuse team that is loaded in the frontcourt will be too much for the Hokies.
Prediction: Syracuse 69, Virginia Tech 64