The Syracuse Orange (18-1, 6-0) will head down to Philadelphia to take on the Villanova Wildcats (12-7, 3-3) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday at 11AM. Syracuse is coming off yet another close victory. After beating Louisville 70-68 last week, they edged the Cincinnati Bearcats 57-55 on Monday.
Villanova is coming off one of the biggest wins in recent years under Jay Wright. They defeated #5 Louisville on Tuesday night 73-64. This game against Syracuse is being billed as a "white out" game. If you’re not going to buy the shirt, fans are being urged to wear white to support Nova Nation.
In terms of the game, here are some things Villanova will need to do to pull off another upset against #3 Syracuse:
Ball Movement Against the 2-3 Defense
When 'Nova played Louisville, the Cardinals were in zone for the majority of the game. I thought Villanova actually played very well against the zone. They had good ball movement on a number of possessions and got good penetration in the lane. The 'Cats will need more of the same thing against the tough Orange zone. Villanova is currently scoring 69.4 points per game while shooting 40% from the field and must be hot from behind the 3-point line as well.
Keep Playing Good Defense
Villanova will need to continue playing solid defense. They are giving up only 63 points per game over the last 3 games, all vs Big East opponents. Following the victory over Louisville, Russ Smith, arguably the best player on Rick Pitino's squad, was held to just 8 points on 2-11 shooting (18%). This wasn’t a case of Smith simply missing open shots. Villanova had a hand in his face on almost every shot he attempted. One of Syracuse's best players is C.J. Fair. When Villanova played Syracuse at the Carrier Dome back on January 12th, Fair turned it on in the second half and was the key player in upending the Cats. Fair ended the day with 22 points. Villanova will need to play better D against him this time around in order to have a better chance at winning this match-up.
Turnovers have been a problem all year for Villanova and they have yet to fix that issue. The Wildcats turned the ball over 18 times vs Louisville after a 25-turnover game against Providence. I don't know how I feel about this quote, but Jay Wright stated post game after the Louisville victory that, "We're so used to turning the ball over so making mistakes didn't rattle us."
This team is relatively young, especially at the guard spots, but that is no excuse to be turning the ball over as much as they do. Syracuse is a team that will force you into turning the ball over which they did in their win over Nova earlier this month, forcing the Cats to turn it over 16 times. Syracuse's strength is the fast break and they start many of their fast breaks off of turnovers. Villanova will have to limit their turnovers in order to give them a chance at the upset.
I believe that Jayvaughn Pinkston is the x-factor for Villanova in this game. If Villanova wants to pull off another upset, JVP will need to continue playing at a high level. He is Villanova's sixth man and usually comes off the bench around the 17-minute mark in the first half to provide instant offense. Pinkston is averaging 13.2 points per game, while also grabbing 4.5 rebounds a game. He is a mismatch for all teams and will kill you with his head fake from the perimeter so he can get to the rim. He can post you up down low where he has a plethora of moves on the low block. Villanova will need to get him touches - when he touches the ball, good things tend to happen.
My Prediction: The Villanova Wildcats will upset #3 Syracuse. Syracuse has been in six straight games that went down to the final minutes in regulation. I feel that you can only do that for so long, especially without one of their best players, James Southerland. Villanova has all the confidence in the world right now after beating #5 Louisville and they need to capitalize on it to take down the ‘Cuse.