When we last met with Syracuse, they were 18-1 on the season and suffered their only loss to league favorites Pittsburgh. Villanova won that game at the dome, 83-72, and did an absolute number on the zone. Syracuse then lost two more to complete a four-game slide.
Now, the Orange are 22-6 and on their way to to Philadelphia for a date with the Wildcats on Monday night. Like the 'Cats, the Orange battled their Saturday opponent into overtime before beating Rutgers, 84-80.
The Orange still have a potent offense, with four players averaging double-digit points this season. Kris Joseph, Rick Jackson, Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche are the leaders in scoring this season. Meanwhile, the bulk of their rebounding comes from Rick Jackson who averages 11.2 rpg.
Since the last meeting of these two teams, freshman center Fab Melo has lost his starting job to freshman forward Baye Moussa Keita, and played all of one minute in the overtime win over Rutgers. Keita hasn't been much of an offensive addition for Syracuse, but Jim Boeheim clearly feels he adds more to the line-up.
Even with Keita in the starting lineup, 'Cuse has been "going small" more often:
Then there’s the Orange’s "smaller’’ lineup. Boeheim will remove his starting center in favor of C.J. Fair, a 6-8 freshman forward. In turn, [Rick] Jackson will slide from power forward to center. Boeheim has turned to this lineup more often in recent games. Fair has averaged 31.2 minutes over the last four games.
Swapping 6'10" for 6'8" probably isn't as small as Villanova can get at times, but it is small for Syracuse.
The Orange's biggest problem right now is 3-pt defense, and they have been burned by hot-shooting teams. West Virginia netter half of their shots from beyond the arc and Villanova beat the Orange partially by having a hot-shooting night (45.8% from 3, 50% overall).
If Corey Stokes were to make his much-anticipated return on Monday night, it would be a tremendous help to a Villanova team that has struggled making deep shots without him. If Stokes needs more time to recover, Corey Fisher may have to pick up the slack. As the second-best distance shooter on the team, Fisher may need to have another dominant game for the 'Cats to score a win.
The game plan the 'Cats pursued in their last match-up with the Orange, worked very well. Without Corey Stokes, however, the option of shooting over the zone is off the table. The 'Cats will have to penetrate the zone and score from the inside.
UPDATE (8:30pm): Terry Toohey writes that Corey Stokes is expected to play against Syracuse. He states that the senior guard will come off the bench in the Big Monday game.
The game will tip off on Monday night at 7:00pm from the Wells Fargo Center. Television coverage will be provided by ESPN.
Don't forget to get your entries in for Closest to the Pin!