Villanova has been in a conference called "Big East" since 1980. Syracuse also spent a considerable number of years in a conference called "Big East," but now as a member of the ACC, the Orange may start to seem a little more foreign to Wildcats fans. Now a non-conference game for both schools, Villanova is bracing itself for what will be it's toughest true road game this season.
To help our readers out with the now-strangers up in Syracuse, New York, we reached out to Sean Keeley of SB Nation's excessively-named Syracuse Orange site, Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician, for a five question Q&A (we answered his questions as well, over there).
VUhoops: Lets get this out of the way up front: Is this a rivalry or not? Syracuse has sold over 30,000 tickets for this game, which is the eighth time that has happened when Nova came to the Wintry north. Where does Villanova rank among the old Big East schools, when it comes to scheduling in the post-Big East era?
Keeley: I say yes, absolutely. When we played St. John's last week, that felt like it was more about the nostalgia of playing in Madison Square Garden than any kind of bitter rivalry. However, because both programs have been so good for so long, the SU-Nova games have pretty much all meant something for the past decade. Villanova sneakily became a strong rival for Syracuse in the midst of all the hype surrounding UConn and Georgetown.
In terms of post-Big East scheduling, nothing will top Georgetown. Then I think UConn still gets second billing because of 6 OTs and whatnot. But Villanova is a strong third, with St. John's in fourth. I hope we keep playing you guys for a long time and given how much Philly recruiting we do, I bet we will.
VUhoops: Villanova doesn't import 90% of all Canadian basketball players like Syracuse does, but fans seem to like their Ennis brother, how does Syracuse feel about Tyler?
Keeley: Syracuse fans have that kind of uneasy excitement that comes with rooting for a freshman like Tyler Ennis. We're super-excited about how well he's done so far. Not sure if you caught Luke Winn's recent comparison between him and Michael Carter-Williams last year, but Ennis is actually on pace to have an even better season. Which naturally leads to the assumption that he's a goner after this year. Ennis has lived up to the hype and then some but we're not too excited about the probability he's one-and-done.
VUhoops: What is your most-memorable moment from Villanova vs. Syracuse history?
Keeley: It's gotta be 34,616. I was in Los Angeles at the time and I went to a Syracuse fan meet-up in Hollywood. I couldn't believe it when I walked into the bar and saw hundreds of orange shirts. We packed the place and went nuts as we watched SU win in front of a record crowd. There are probably better games in the series, but that was my favorite experience.
VUhoops: Assuming that every team in college basketball is going to lose a game this season, which game do you consider Syracuse's most-likely loss?
Keeley: It's funny. I've watched a lot of Syracuse fans basically pre-talk themselves into losing this game. It's a classic SU fan move. Just say we're going to lose and that you'll be okay with it and then that way you don't have to feel the crushing disappointment afterward.
The truth is, they might very well lose this game. Nova presents a lot of issues, especially defensively for this Orange squad. However, if they're able to win here, I don't know if I see a loss until the North Carolina game on January 11th. The Tar Heels play up or down to their opponent, which, I suppose, would make it a compliment if they beat us.
VUhoops: Villanova's defense has been pretty good this year. They're rated 2nd on KenPom and have been rebounding better than their height seems to indicate. How will Syracuse deal with it when Villanova presses them and potentially out-hustles them on the glass?
Keeley: A good way to beat Syracuse is to simply out-muscle us, be it on the glass or in the paint. The Wildcats have the chance to do both. Our big men are improving but they're not where we want them to be. If you force Rakeem Christmas and DaJuan Coleman to win the game for SU, it's a bad equation.
As for defensive pressure, the Orange have done so-so against constant press. It has had an effect on our shooters and if you can keep Trevor Cooney or Jerami Grant off the scoreboard, you're doing something right. Good luck stopping C.J. Fair, though. Somehow, someway, he will score 15 points and grab 8 rebounds. It just happens.
VUhoops: Is Syracuse planning to play any true road games this season?
Keeley: You sonofa...
It's a good point. As we all know, the National Champion is always the team that plays the most true road games. It's science.