Villanova Wildcats and Syracuse Orange will be renewing their old Big East rivalry on Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center, so we decided to renew our Q&A series with John Cassillo from Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician.
John answered some questions below for Brian - head over to TNIAAM (and be civil) to check out Brian's answers about the matchup.
(1) How badly does Syracuse need a win at Villanova?
Oh, VERY badly. Can't you tell? Syracuse is in no shape to suffer yet another non-conference loss this year, and while a defeat on Saturday wouldn't be surprising, it would still hurt quite a bit. This team is young and a bit shaky on defense -- while being deplorable on the offensive end -- and could improve. But relying on them to improve to the point of winning 12-14 ACC games seems very unlikely.
(2) Should Villanova even bother running a half-court set, or has the 2-3 been shaky at all this season? Are you aware that KenPom.com calls Cuse's defensive fingerprint "some zone" this season?
I hadn't seen that critique from KenPom, but honestly, I believe it. Syracuse's zone is not what it's been in previous years, with the guards struggling across the board -- leaving Christmas as the only line of defense in the middle. Teams can run against us, slice their way into the paint with shocking ease, and hit threes at a better clip than previous seasons too. That could change as the year wears on, but not by Saturday afternoon. Louisiana Tech was able to score against us... so yeah, feel free to run whatever offense you're most comfortable with. Because it'll probably work for the Wildcats.
(3) Since Thanksgiving, it seems like Villanova fans have repeatedly been saying, "thank god we didn't lose to Michigan." How horrifying is it to drop that game just in time for the Wolverines to lose to NJIT?
You forgot to mention their loss to Eastern Michigan (coached by former 'Cuse assistant and zone disciple Rob Murphy) as well. Back then, we thought we dropped a very winnable game to a decent team. Now? We see that we dropped a very winnable game to a team that a better SU squad would've blown the doors off of. It's frustrating to see them falter so hard after beating the Orange, because that loss is only going to weigh more and more heavily the further they fall. Even though it was on the road... can't get to the NCAAs with too many "bad losses" as a bubble team (which SU will probably end up being).
(4) Rakeem Christmas is definitely the star for Syracuse, but it has usually been a lights-out shooter from deep who crushes the souls of the Villanova faithful. Who are the likely candidates for that role in this game?
That assumes anyone on Syracuse can shoot the basketball (HA!) from anywhere outside of 10 feet. Trevor Cooney is the obvious choice based on previous results, and honestly, he's really the only player you COULD point to as a candidate here. Against Louisiana Tech, he broke out of an extended funk by scoring 25 points, though a lot of that was from the line. He's not the same player you remember at all from last year or other previous iterations. Outside of random games of 50 percent shooting from beyond the arc, he's had to adjust his contributions to defense and driving the lane. He's only just now figuring out the latter.
(5) Remember when this was a conference game? What is it like seeing Duke and UNC on the schedule every year?
Those were fun, though as a student (2006-2010), I had mixed feelings about Villanova. On the one hand, you guys aggravated me whenever we played one another, and oh... I'll always hate Scottie "Fucking" Reynolds. On the other, I'll always remember the then-record attendance night in 2010 when I slept over in the Carrier Dome and we stomped the life out of 'Nova on national TV. Simpler times...
Seeing Duke and UNC on the schedule is odd, but not the MOST odd. I think it's more jarring to see the likes of Florida State, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest, to be honest. Plus, with so many other former Big East teams in the fold, it's not like it feels THAT different (other than the notable absences of you guys, Georgetown and to a point, St. John's).
(6) What is Syracuse's major malfunction early this season? It seems like the defense has been decent, but offensive metrics look bad.
No shooters, plain and simple. Rakeem Christmas and Chris McCullough will get their points in the paint, but there's no reliable player on the perimeter to hit threes, nor any real jump shooter either. That's startling for most to see (us included), but it's really been a several-year process to get here. Last year's late-season collapse wasn't even the beginning. It was the logical conclusion of the offense's dramatic lack of efficiency and effectiveness. Even the 2012-13 Final Four team was deplorable on the offensive end -- they just had a top-notch defense to bail them out. If we continue to struggle from the floor, we have a lot more losses in our future, including one to Villanova on Saturday.