Tomorrow afternoon Syracuse will have a shot at redemption. The Orange will take their 6-3 record to Villanova where an undefeated Wildcats team awaits. The battle of former Big East rivals on the national stage will give Jim Boeheim’s squad an opportunity to hush the critics and pick up the team’s first quality win of the season. However, Villanova has advantages that the Orange will have to nullify if they plan on leaving with a victory.
The Wildcats have six players that are averaging over 20 minutes per game, and eight who have played in all 10 of Villanova’s games so far. All of the players on the Villanova roster have gotten minutes in at least half of their games.
The Orange have not been so flexible. Syracuse has only four players that have made appearances in all of the team’s games. While the Orange also have 6 players getting 20+ minutes per game, the distribution is far more uneven. Those four players who have played in all of Syracuse’s outings (Chris McCullough, Trevor Cooney, Rakeem Christmas, and Kaleb Joseph) are all playing over 30 minutes per contest, while the Orange’s bottom four players get on the court for less than two.
Villanova has been able to rotate players in and out regularly, keeping fresh legs on the court at all times. The Orange’s every day players will be asked to push themselves to their limits against one of the best teams in the nation, and doing it all on less rest.
It’s no secret that Syracuse has had trouble shooting the ball this season. The Orange are 161st in the nation in field goal percentage, and come in at dead last from behind the arc (22.5%). Villanova ranks in the top 50 in both field goal percentage and points per game; numbers which aren’t elite, but are certainly better than what has come out of the Carrier Dome.
If Trevor Cooney hadn’t found his touch and gone 4-of-8 from behind the arc on Sunday the Orange probably would have lost to Louisiana Tech, but Syracuse’s shooting woes don’t end with the return of the junior’s jumper. The Orange have shot below their season average in each of their last two games, and will need to turn it around if they expect to have success tomorrow and for the rest of the season.
Villanova is starting five upperclassmen, two of which are seniors. The veteran group, which includes Tyler Ennis’s older brother Dylan, have started all 10 of the Wildcats’ games this season. The Orange’s four consistent starters include two freshmen who are adjusting to college ball, and two veterans who are taking on new roles as leaders this season. Who gets the fifth starting spot is still up for debate.
Villanova knows what kind of team they are and how they want to play. Each player knows his role and what he has to contribute to the team, and the veteran roster is familiar with each other and the coaching scheme. Experience has given them the luxury of identity. Syracuse has suffered from injury and uncharacteristic play, both of which have contributed to fans not knowing what they’ll see from the Orange on a game-to-game basis. The Wildcats won’t hesitate to take advantage of any uncertainty in Syracuse’s game tomorrow afternoon.
Almost all intuition would tell you that the Syracuse Orange are going to fall to 6-4 tomorrow. On paper Villanova looks like the better team, and off paper Villanova has been the better team (to this point in the season). However, there’s a reason we play the games, and I see no better time than now for the Orange to start playing to their potential.
Posted: Nathan Dickinson