Virginia Tech limps into bulk of ACC slate against No. 2 Syracuse

Virginia Tech's Devin Wilson has gotten used to the routine — practice, cold tub, hot tub, nap, rinse, repeat. For a freshman expected to play a big role in Atlantic Coast Conference play, maintenance will mean everything.

As Tech hosts No. 2 Syracuse (14-0, 1-0 ACC) on Tuesday night in the Hokies' first home conference game of the season, Wilson is Tech's only true, healthy point guard on the roster. It could be an intimidating situation for a 19 year old facing Syracuse's 2-3 zone for the first time, but Wilson is as ready as he can be for the challenge.

"I'm holding up well so far," said Wilson, a 6-foot-4 native of McKees Rock, Pa., who is averaging 7.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 3.3 turnovers a game while shooting 48.1 percent from the floor.

"I really wasn't expecting that I'd have this much of the load. When we started the season, and I was already playing 30 minutes a game, it kind of really put me in the reality that this is how it's going to be all year. I've been kind of embracing it and enjoying the moments."

Wilson will be matched against fellow freshman point guard Tyler Ennis, who is averaging 11.6 points, 5.5 assists and only 1.2 turnovers per game for Syracuse.

Tech (8-5, 1-0) enters the Syracuse game with Adam Smith, a sophomore who starts at shooting guard and backs up Wilson at point guard, and forwards C.J. Barksdale and Marshall Wood questionable due to various ailments. Smith is dealing with a nagging calf injury, while Barksdale has knee and ankle injuries and a stomach flu. Wood also has the flu.

With Smith trying to get back to 100 percent, Marquis Rankin leaving the team a week-and-a-half ago because of personal reasons, and freshman Malik Mueller redshirting, Wilson is shouldering the majority of Tech's point guard responsibilities. Wilson is second on the team with an average of 32.2 minutes per game, trailing only senior forward Jarell Eddie, who is averaging 32.9 minutes and a team-high 17.4 points per game.

Ben Emelogu, a 6-5 freshman, will back up Wilson against Syracuse if Smith is unavailable, but Emelogu is better suited for the scoring guard and small forward spots.

The attrition and injuries have led Tech coach James Johnson to scrap plans to do some things he had hoped to do this season, such as pressing more on defense. A week without games has given Johnson ample time to prepare his team for Syracuse's zone, but he's still trying to massage his roster to handle the unforeseen changes.

"We're not even playing close to how I envisioned how I wanted to play," Johnson said.

"(Syracuse has) one of the best, if not the best, 2-3 zones in the country. It's been like that for a while. We know we're going to face that, and we've got to find some ways to manufacture some open shots against the zone. They've got very talented players. They get some of the better five-star guys in the country every year."

Tech is 2-4 all-time against Syracuse, including four consecutive losses, but the teams haven't met since 2011. Syracuse, which joined the ACC in July, is visiting Blacksburg for the first time since 1978. Tech played men's basketball in the Big East Conference from 2000-04, along with founding Big East member Syracuse, but the teams never played a men's basketball game in Blacksburg in that span.

Syracuse, which is coming off an unexpectedly tough 49-44 home victory Saturday against Miami, is led by C.J. Fair, the media's pick for ACC preseason player of the year. Fair, a 6-8 senior forward, is averaging 17.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. He's one of four players averaging in double figures for Syracuse.

DaJuan Coleman, a 6-9, 280-pound sophomore forward who started Syracuse's first 12 games, has missed the Orange's last two games with a bruised left knee. His status for the Tech game will be a game-time decision.

Tech is coming off an 82-66 win last Tuesday against Maryland-Eastern Shore, but it was otherwise an up-and-down December for the Hokies. Tech opened the month with an 81-63 win against Winthrop before getting a 61-60 overtime win at Miami that featured a comeback from a nine-point deficit with less than eight minutes left in regulation.

Tech finished the month with an 82-52 loss to Virginia Commonwealth, a 55-52 home loss to UNC Greensboro and an 82-66 home win against Maryland-Eastern Shore. Consistency hasn't one of Tech's greatest assets.

"What we prepare for is the best, their best," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim on Monday regarding Tech's recent play.

"We really don't prepare for a team's highs and lows. We expect a team's going to play well against us. Miami had not played well in some games this year but they played very well against us."

Wood can be reached by phone at 757-247-4642.

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