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Preview: #6 Villanova Wildcats vs. Syracuse Orange

‘Cats head to Madison Square Garden to take on some old friends

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 30 Indiana at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The #6 Villanova Wildcats will be at Madison Square Garden tonight to take on the Syracuse Orange in the late game of the Jimmy V Classic. The match-up will follow Texas Tech vs. #13 Tennessee Volunteers. As of now, ‘Nova is scheduled to tip off at 9:30 pm EST. Syracuse and Villanova haven’t faced off since 2014, with ‘Nova winning in overtime. Syracuse leads the series 39-32.

While any preview of Syracuse usually starts with its defense, this year it starts with its offense. The Orange are presently ranked 18th in AdjO and space the floor with a trio of strong shooters: Buddy Boeheim, Joe Girard and yes, Cole Swider. Cole Swider is already seeing nearly 33 minutes a game and averaging 13.1 points and 6.9 rebounds. However, although he is a gifted shooter, Swider is thus far struggling from behind the arc - shooting at just a 28% clip.

The Boeheim(s) (x2), Girard, and Swider trio combine for nearly 20 three-point attempts a game and the starters are all averaging double digits. ‘Cuse’s offense is a balanced attack - anyone on the floor can and will make the outside shot if it’s there. Additionally, the Orange take care of the ball and are a very strong free throw shooting team.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 04 Syracuse at Florida State Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On defense, the zone is still there but it’s not even close to as there as it has been in the past. The defense ranks #168 and sub-200 in nearly every defensive metric. The losses of Kadary Richmond and Alan Griffin - two rangy guards - have been felt heavily on the perimeter. There is a lack of quickness on the perimeter that should allow Villanova to generate some open shots. The only thing the Orange do well on defense - at this point - is pick-up turnovers as teams try to navigate the zone. ‘Cuse has shuffled between two zones this year (a 2-3 and a 1-1-3) and Villanova should (and likely will) be prepared to see both.

Syracuse is coming off of two impressive - and wildly different - wins. The Orange beat Indiana in a double overtime thriller wherein ‘Cuse put up 112 points. Five days later, they toppled Florida State in a 63-60 slugfest. Earlier this year, the ‘Cuse zone gave up 100 to Colgate before holding Auburn to 68. :::shrug:::

There is no doubt Syracuse’s offense has the raw potential to shoot the lights out - frankly, something that gives every Villanova fan Dougie McBuckets flashbacks. However, this is a game where Villanova’s offense needs to live up to its number 4 ranking in AdjO. Villanova presently ranked 7th in 3P%, 19th in effective FG%, and 8th in turnover% - those are elite offensive numbers. While the last few games have maybe been ugly on the eyes, the talent and potential is clearly there.

Syracuse’s zone this year is more of a mental challenge than a physical one - the unfamiliarity throws teams off but the defense is ultimately penetrable. This is a game where Collin Gillespie can set the tone early if he is able to evaluate the zone in the halfcourt and find the open man. Collin has been deprived of his MSG moment thus far in his career - missing the last two Big East Tournaments (COVID/injury). I say he author one tonight.

Finally, I think it is important to always take time to remember those who may be suffering, or have family that may be suffering, from cancer. If you are so inclined, please take some time to read up on all the great work being done by the Jimmy V Foundation and donate if you can.