Hopefully you're in a festive mood this holiday season!
It's been a long week off for the Villanova Wildcats, but hopefully they're ready to be tested, as the Syracuse Orange come to the Wells Fargo Center tomorrow at 1:00 for a rematch of last year's game that handed Villanova their first loss of the season.
Lately, the Orange have looked mortal. With losses to Cal, a then-ranked Michigan squad, and St. John's, 'Cuse surely seems to be off their game from recent years. At 6-3, their best win is either a 3-point victory over Iowa or last weekend's 71-69 triumph over Louisiana Tech. The Michigan game can arguably be thrown out the window, and we know St. John's has always had the talent to win big games. So what exactly should we expect from the Orangemen tomorrow?
Stay Active on Defense
It kind of goes without saying, as I'm sure Wright will employ some of his 1-2-2 press against Syracuse, but it may actually come in handy tomorrow. After committing just nine turnovers per game last year, the Orange are up to 14/game this year in that department. Freshman point guard Kaleb Joseph has not been the ideal point guard up to this point, with a 5:4 assist-to-turnover ratio (for reference, the 'Cats have three players averaging around 2:1).
Just as was mentioned earlier in a "stat-based" article, the defense works because of trust and calculated risk. Now is not the time to lay off the pressure. After their last win, coach Jim Boeheim told the media "I know that I can not coach catching the basketball at this stage. If we have to do that and go get the ball, if we have to do those things, we can't possibly win." Joseph had eight turnovers in the game, and forwards Tyler Roberson and BJ Johnson were catches entry passes one-handed.
No Christmas Specials Tomorrow
Maybe it's just me, but Rakeem Christmas is one of those guys that just feels like he's been there for a decade. After playing behind CJ Fair and Jerami Grant, Christmas has taken the lead scorer's role for this year's Orange. We only saw him play 15 minutes last year and contribute three points and three rebounds, but he now leads the team in points (16.4), rebounds (8.9), and blocks (2.4). As the go-to guy in the Syracuse offense, it'll be up to Daniel Ochefu, JayVaughn Pinkston, and potentially Kris Jenkins to keep his totals low.
Work the Zone (and learn from last year)
December 28th, 2013 was a major turning point for Villanova. After a Josh Hart dunk led to a 25-7 lead up at the Carrier Dome, things never felt the same, for the rest of the season. The Orange started forcing 3-pointers, knowing we'd start missing. Sure enough, we started missing. So we shot them some more. 62% of Wildcat shots that day were from behind the arc. Outside of James Bell, who was 6-12 from deep, the team shot just 21%.
This year's team feels a bit different. I'm confident Ochefu can play more than 19 minutes tomorrow, work the zone better now that he has developed a lot in the last year, and provide more of a balance to the Villanova offense. If everyone plays the way they have been, this can be a game where we as fans aren't worried about the inevitable Syracuse comeback. Boeheim's squad is simply not as good this year. But we can't take them lightly.