ESPN College Gameday decided to hold court at the Syracuse game before the season, and since that time, it has been one of the most anticipated games on the schedule. When Syracuse came hot out of the gate to start the season, going undefeated in the non-conference schedule, the anticipation only grew. Both schools have been looking forward to this game (someone even created a twitter account for Andy Rautin's Hair)
The Fruit have their share of notable wins this season (as well as notable losses), and come into this game with a 26-2 record (13-2 in conference). They are one game ahead of Villanova in the hunt for the Big East title, making this game every bit as meaningful as the build-up would have you believe.
Syracuse have five players averaging double-digit points and one who is just behind at 8.9ppg. Wesley Johnson is the team's MVP, averaging 15.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists per contest. Andy Rautins and his fauxhawk-mullet combo are clocking in at 11.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game while teaming up with Scoop Jardine (7.7ppg, 4.6ast) at the point. Forwards Kris Joseph, Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson are all averaging 10 or more points per game and at least 5 rebounds per game (with Jackson averaging seven boards).
The seven players mentioned above all play more than 21 minutes per game. Only two other players average a significant number of minutes: Mookie Jones (10.9 mins) and DaShonte Riley (10.2).
The Orange shoots 67% as a team from the free throw line. Four of their players, however shoot notably better than average. Andy Rautins is a 79.4% shooter from the charity stripe. Wes Johnson hits 77.6%, Scoop Jardine hits 73.6% and Kris Johnson has connected on 72.4% of his free throws. Putting any of these players on the line too many times will probably result in another disappointing loss.
'Cuse averages 39.5 rebounds per game in Big East play, out-rebounding their conference opponents by about 2.6 rebounds per game. Villanova has averaged a rebounding differential of 3.2 this season.
The key to this game will be to break Jim Boeheim's 2-3 Zone defense. In order to do so, the Wildcats will have to be able to hit their shots from beyond the arc (not the easiest of tasks in the Dome). Against the zone, you need to take control the middle, where you will either get an easy shot, or draw a defender away from the perimeter to open up a jumpshot on the wing. To ensure that the deep shot is open, therefore, our guards need to try and drive the lane to get into that open space.
The goal of the zone is to force you to take more difficult shots. A lot of the time, that shot is going to be from deep. You need good passing to get the ball to the open man, and good shooting to make the tough shots.
Moreso than that, however, the 'Cats need to play very tough defense. The Syracuse offense is well balanced and our man-to-man scheme has to work on five men at the same time. The pattern for beating Syracuse seems to be to shoot well from beyond the arc and to prevent the Fruit from making the easy shots themselves.
As for Scottie Reynold's countdown: he was held to 10 points in both meetings with Syracuse last season, even while the 'Cats shot over 50% in each contest.