On paper, this one shouldn't be very close - or, so most would have you believe. The Syracuse Orange, again ranked in the top 10 under Jim Boeheim, have reloaded a squad that lost NBA lottery pick Dion Waiters, and stalwarts Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph.
No worry for the Orange though as sophomore sensation Michael Carter-Williams (12 ppg, 9.6 apg) has teamed up with Brandon Triche (14.3 ppg) to form an elite backcourt, while Trevor Cooney and Rakeem Christmas have also seen their numbers rise with increased opportunities to play.
As always with the Orange, their 2-3 zone is what really gets them going on both ends of the court. On defense, Boeheim likes to employ rangy players like C.J. Fair and James Southerland on the wings to help trap the offense while Christmas, DaJuan Coleman and Baye Moussa Keita protect the rim.
Their trapping defense allows them to cause lots of turnovers and get out an run, where their roster full of athletes can put points on the board quickly. Not since Gerry McNamara have the Orange had a "go-to guy" but this sharing model seems to be working for the Orange with 4 players (Triche, Southerland, Carter-Williams, Fair) averaging double-digit scoring.
Villanova, currently playing it's best basketball of the season, will need to find a way to stay in this game. Their offensive strategy of late has been to get the ball inside, but besides JayVaughn Pinkston, none of the Wildcat big men have shown the post-up ability that might be required to successfully score down low.
Similarly on the perimeter, 'Nova has yet to be able to identify a "zone-buster" that can shoot over the top of the zone and help stretch the defense a little bit. Ryan Arcidiacono, Darrun Hilliard, Achraf Yacoubou and James Bell are the main threats, and at least one of them is going to need to knock a few down to help open up the high-low game that centers around Mouphtaou Yarou.
Historically Jay Wright has been one of the few coaches to post a solid record against the Orange and figure out a way to consistently beat the zone, but those team had a wealth of ball-handling guards and dead-eye shooters.
Villanova has played a composed game of late, and their defense has been improving at a rapid rate, but this will be the toughest test of the season for this young group, and should provide some clarity on just how well the 'Cats stack up against the elite of the Big East.
Tip-off is on Saturday at 12:00 pm ET and the game will be available on ESPN3. The game appears to be available on SNY in the New York area.
What are your thoughts on Saturday's game?
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