MBB Preview: ‘Nova looks for first Big East road wins at ‘Cuse and Rutgers

Tim Richer

Road Test at The Dome

After losing at Cincinnati on Saturday, the Wildcats look to find their first Big East-road victory as Villanova visits Syracuse in the Carrier Dome this Saturday.

With an influx of freshman talent coming in, the Orange began the season with extremely high aspirations despite losing several starters to graduation. Those hopes were slightly derailed as ‘Cuse lost sharpshooting sophomore guard Andy Rautins and superstar junior guard Eric Devendorf for the season due to leg injuries.

Despite its losses, Syracuse made it through its non-conference schedule going a respectable 10-3; its losses came to potential tournament teams Ohio State, UMass and Rhode Island.

Even with the loss of its floor general and leader in Devendorf, the Orange has been strong on offense, leading the Big East with over 84 points per game. Fortunately for the Wildcats, this young ‘Cuse team has the third-worst defense in the conference.

The biggest matchup problem for the Wildcats will be sensational freshman forward Donte’ Greene. Standing at 6-feet-11-inches, Greene leads the Big East in scoring with over 19 points per game. The native of Baltimore is a great perimeter shooter, has the mobility of a guard and can beat Villanova on the inside or outside. Look for the ‘Cats to put lanky junior forward Shane Clark on Green to try to handle the rare combination of size and speed.

Even if Villanova can zero in on Greene, it will still have problems guarding Syracuse’s other weapons. Handling the ball for the Orange will be freshman guard Jonny Flynn. The lightning-quick Flynn leads the team with almost six assists per game. He is also a streaky shooter and is second on the team in scoring with over 14 points per game.

Where ‘Nova must look to capitalize is the Orange’s poor perimeter defense. Sophomore guard Scottie Reynolds and freshman guards Corey Fisher and Malcolm Grant should have their way with a bigger and undisciplined Syracuse zone. If the Wildcat guards get hot against Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone, Villanova will win this game.

Syracuse’s strength in this game will unquestionably be its interior athleticism and rebounding. In addition to Green, the Orange feature sophomore forward/center Arinze Onuaku and sophomore guard/forward Paul Harris. Onuaku, averaging almost 14 points and eight rebounds per contest, is extremely powerful and athletic for his 6-foot-9-inch frame.

Harris, standing at just 6-feet-5- inches and perhaps the most athletic player at Syracuse, leads the team in rebounding at over nine per game. Expect Jay Wright to place sophomore guard Reggie Redding on Harris to attempt to nullify his rebounding prowess.

Prediction: This battle of two young teams will come down to which team is able to dictate the pace of the game. Should it be a fast-tempo track meet, expect ‘Cuse to win big. If ‘Nova can slow the game down and pick apart the Orange’s zone, then the Wildcats will have the edge. 25,000-plus people at The Dome are certain to have a favorable home court impact, giving Syracuse the mental edge.

Syracuse 82, Villanova 71.

A Gimme in the Big East?

The Wildcats stay on the road for their second-consecutive conference road contest as they travel to Piscataway, N.J., to take on Rutgers next Wednesday at The RAC.

In his second year as head coach, Fred Hill, a former Villanova assistant, has had a difficult time in reversing a 10-19 record from a season ago. Hill will look to avenge a 74-51 blowout at the Pavilion on Senior Night in 2007.

The Scarlet Knights had an abysmal non-conference record at 8-5, including losses against St. Peter’s and Rider of the weak Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Rutgers’ best out-of-conference victory was a six-point win against Manhattan, avoiding a 0-3 record against the MAAC.

The Big East schedule has been less forgiving for the Knights, as they struggled in their four conference games, going 0-4. Rutgers has not been competitive early in the league, with its closest game being a 17-point loss at South Florida. Unlike the Orange, the Scarlet Knights have had a difficult time scoring this season; they have averaged a conference-low 62 points per game.

Leading the team in scoring and rebounding is junior forward JR Inman. Inman, averaging almost 15 points and over eight rebounds per game, is an athletic swingman standing at 6-foot-9-inches. The outspoken forward may cause matchup problems for the Wildcats. However, he has been streaky all season.

Perhaps the most promising player for Rutgers is freshman guard Corey Chandler out of Newark, N.J. Chandler, a playmaker who has struggled with injury problems early in the season, was the star for Scarlet Knights earlier in the season against No. 1 North Carolina, scoring 26 points at The RAC in a 22-point loss. Chandler should keep Reynolds’ hands full the whole game.

While the Scarlet Knights have little low-post scoring, they do feature two strong interior defenders in senior center Byron Joynes and sophomore center Hamady N’Diaye. Standing at 6-feet-9-inches and 6-feet-11-inches, respectively, Joynes and N’Diaye should keep Cunningham and redshirt-freshman forward Antonio Peña from having breakout games.

As usual, the advantage in the game for the Wildcats lies in the mismatches in the backcourt. In addition to Chandler, Rutgers only counterattack for Villanova’s scoring guards are the average junior guard Anthony Farmer and freshman guard Mike Coburn. While both solid players who have shown some play-making ability, neither player is capable of competing with ‘Nova’s scoring guards.

Prediction: After coming off of a fierce environment in the Carrier Dome, a half-full RAC in Piscataway will be much different. The Scarlet Knights have really struggled so far this season, and there is no reason to believe that this game will be much different.

Villanova 77, Rutgers 62.