‘Nova travels to ‘Cuse for rematch


Opponent Overall

After a Villanova-dominated matchup in Philadelphia on Feb. 7, the Syracuse Orange will attempt to avenge its 102-85 loss when the Wildcats arrive in Syracuse on Sunday for the teams’ second meeting of the season.

The Orange (19-7, 7-6 Big East) has lost six of its last nine games, though its most recent contest resulted in a 98-94 overtime win against Georgetown on Valentine’s Day.

Opponent Strengths

The Orange is an undeniably stronger team on its home court, and the location of its games has been especially important in conference play, as only one of its six Big East losses was at the Carrier Dome (against Louisville on Jan. 25). Syracuse is also a powerful offensive unit, averaging 79.5 points per game, the second most in the conference. This scoring can be attributed to what is probably the team’s greatest strength: the balance of its star players. While sophomore guard Jonny Flynn leads the Orange with 17.5 ppg, four other players (Eric Devendorf, Paul Harris, Arinze Onuaku and Andy Rautins) are also averaging double figures in scoring this season. This balanced scoring means that opponents cannot formulate a game plan focused on shutting down one star player, but must instead rely on solid team defense to try to keep the explosive Syracuse offense in check.

Opponent Weaknesses

As strong as it is on offense, Syracuse has struggled on the defensive end this season. The Orange ranks 12th out of the 16 teams in the Big East, allowing opponents an average of 71.7 ppg. They allowed triple digits twice over a span of three games, as Providence put up 100 points against them on Jan. 28 and Villanova scored 102 on Feb. 7. If the Wildcats can run their offense with anything near the effectiveness they displayed during the teams’ first meeting, another high-scoring contest will likely ensue.

Who to Watch

Undoubtedly the most pivotal player to Syracuse’s success, Flynn has been the only player to start all 26 games for the Orange so far this season. He has led the team in scoring in 13 of them. His scoring ability, however, is only part of his contribution – Flynn is also one of the best distributors in the Big East, averaging 6.1 assists per game (second most in the conference). Also leading the team in steals and total minutes played, Flynn is clearly a major component of what makes the Syracuse machine run, and when he is held in check the team will struggle. Look for his performance on Sunday to reflect in the game’s result.

What to Watch For

Interesting matchups in this game will be between senior forward Dante Cunningham and the Syracuse big men. Cunningham averages nearly four minutes per game more than Syracuse’s main big man, Onuaku, so inevitably the Orange will have to rotate other defenders in to guard him. Cunningham is also likely to be the focus of Syracuse’s defensive game plan due to his 31-point explosion against them two weeks ago. Whether or not Syracuse can keep Cunningham’s scoring, as well as his offensive rebounding, in check will be pivotal to the outcome of the contest.

Villanova 88, Syracuse 80