Friday, February 26, 2010

Syracuse. Villanova. Who wins?

I initially planned this preview in conjuction with my attendance at the Carrier Dome. Sadly, I will no longer be part of the largest on-campus crowd in history, but I will still throw in my two cents on how this game might turn out.

Although I believe Syracuse is the better team (and the second-best team in the country), Villanova presents one of the Orange's most difficult matchups. The reason is simple: Awesome guard play.

Scottie Reynolds is one of the top contenders for Big East Player of the Year and, while he likely won't win the award, he will receive heavy consideration. A scoring average of 19 PPG on 49% shooting for a 6'2'' guard will do that.

Along with Reynolds, fellow guard Corey Fisher is probably the Wildcats' second-best player, averaging 13.8 points per game. The duo of Reynolds and Fisher gives Villanova one of the best if not the best backcourt combination in the country.

Everybody raves about Syracuse's 2-3 zone, but the way to beat that zone is with dead-eye outside shooting (just look at the first half against Providence earlier this week) and dribble penetration. Both Reynolds and Fisher are capable of killing the Orange in both areas, and Villanova has plenty of backcourt depth off the bench as well, despite Corey Stokes' recent citing for public urination which has made his status for Saturday's game unclear.

While Villanova has the backcourt edge despite excellent play this season from Andy Rautins, Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine, Syracuse's real advantage comes on the low block. Arinze Onuaku, Rick Jackson and Kris Joseph all average at least 10 points and 4.9 rebounds per game, while star swingman Wesley Johnson adds 8.7 boards himself to go along with a team-leading 15.8 points per game.

Despite those numbers, Villanova is actually the better rebounding team, ranking 17th in the nation. Another weakness of a zone defense is an inability to keep opposing teams off the offensive glass, and Syracuse's big men will have to make sure they keep the scrappy Wildcats from getting second-chance opportunities.

Syracuse has the nation's top field-goal percentage and the 27th-best three-point percentage. But in their two losses this season, they shot below 43 percent and were just 6-for-32 from beyond the arc. A strong shooting performance will be necessary for the Orange to outpace the nation's second-leading scoring team.

On the other hand, Villanova has had their own defensive issues. They struggle to keep opponents in front of them and resort to fouling, as seen in their three Big East losses where they allowed their opponents to take 128 free throws, making 100. Luckily for the Wildcats, Syracuse is one of the country's worst foul-shooting teams at just 67 percent, despite their uncanny efficiency from the field.

So what gives? These two teams seem poised to give this record crowd one of the better Big East games of the season, and that's saying something. Villanova's offensive strengths seem to mirror Syracuse's few defensive weaknesses, while the Orange should have no trouble against a Wildcat defense that struggles at times.

In my eyes, that leads to a high-scoring basketball game, I think a deeper Syracuse team will shoot close to 50 percent (52.2% on the season), take a near double-digit lead into the final few minutes and barely hold on (the typical Syracuse blueprint), missing foul shots and allowing the Wildcats to get back into the game with some timely three-point shooting from Reynolds and Fisher. Final score: 78-76, Orange.

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