MBB Preview: Rematch with Syracuse, Holy War on horizon for Villanova

Michael Zipf

Orange Sweep?

After defeating Syracuse 81-71 at the Carrier Dome, the Wildcats seek to sweep the season series against the Orange and avenge their first home loss of the season against Notre Dame. Returning to the Wachovia Center, Villanova will face a young, dynamic and pesky Syracuse team that continues to suffer the lingering effects of injuries and inconsistency. This matchup adds another chapter to an extensive and rich history between the two teams, in which Syracuse holds a 33-26 advantage in the all-time series.

With the absence of leading scorer Eric Devendorf, Syracuse has relied on two freshman diaper dandies Jonny Flynn and Donte Greene. Greene, at 6 feet 11 inches, enters the matchup averaging close to 19 points per game and will present matchup problems for the ‘Cats. Expect various defenders to guard the versatile Greene, who reminds some Syracuse fans of another dynamic freshman that carried the Orange on route to a national championship.

Although Greene lacks the strength and interior game of Carmelo Anthony, Greene’s length, ability to attack the basket and long-range shooting creates great concerns for a Wildcat defense that ranks in the bottom half of the Big East in field goal percentage and scoring defense. As the season has progressed, Flynn has emerged as the facilitator of the Syracuse offense. During the previous matchup, at the Carrier Dome, Flynn erupted for 23 points and four assists. However, the X-factor for ‘Cuse could be center Arinze Onuaku, who at 6 feet 9 inches and 258 pounds provides the Orange with a strong interior presence. In the last game against Notre Dame, the Wildcat frontcourt experienced a difficult time defending Luke Harangody who, like Onuaku, is an athletic and powerful forward.

On the offensive end, the Wildcats should be able to exploit Syracuse’s two-three zone with dribble-drive penetration and effective outside shooting. Over the past couple of games, freshman Corey Stokes has begun to demonstrate the shooting prowess that earned him a spot on the McDonald’s All-American team. In his last two games, Stokes has connected on 60 percent of his shots from beyond the arch. Malcolm “The Microwave” Grant, who leads the Wildcats in 3-point shooting at a blistering 53 percent, should be a major contributor in the matchup. Scottie Reynolds, who leads the team in scoring at 17.4 points per game, will be the focal point for the Syracuse defense. Expect the Syracuse zone to lean toward Reynolds in an attempt to negate his shooting and driving abilities. In the previous matchup, Reynolds torched the Syracuse zone for 25 points, including four 3-pointers. Although Syracuse’s primary concern will be Villanova’s backcourt, the play of Villanova’s frontcourt both on the offensive and defensive ends could be the determining factor in the game. Red-shirt freshman Antonio Peña has provided the ‘Cats with a strong interior presence, averaging over 10 points per game in conference play.

Overall, expect the Wildcats to pull off an important home victory over a depleted Syracuse roster that features only eight scholarship players. The Wildcats depth, coupled with their ability to shoot the outside jumper, should allow the ‘Cats to prevail in this matchup. Villanova is 11-2 in games in which they score 70 points or more. Therefore a poor shooting performance either from the floor or foul line could spell trouble for the ‘Cats.

Villanova 84, Syracuse 77.

Will the Hawk Live?

The intense local battle between cross-town rival St Joe’s shifts venues this year as the ‘Cats travel to St. Joe’s. After dismantling the Hawks last year 56-39, expect a more highly contested matchup this year, with St. Joe’s nearly pulling upsets over Gonzaga and Syracuse and earning a second-place standing in a surprisingly strong A-10 conference.

The Hawks are led by senior Pat Calathes, who at 6 feet 10 inches provides St. Joe’s with a multi-faceted offensive threat. Calathes’s 18.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game are tops among the team. Junior Ahmad Nivins, who is enjoying a breakout season averaging over 14 points per game, joins Calathes in the frontcourt to provide the Hawks with a solid one-two tandem. Mitigating Nivins’s strong inside presence while limiting Calathes outside looks will be imperative for the Wildcat defense, whose 3-point defense has plagued the team throughout the season. With St. Joe’s shooting an impressive 39.4 percent from beyond the arc, the Wildcats will need to worry about containing St. Joe’s outside shooters. St. Joe’s size could also present some matchup problems like it did with Notre Dame. The Hawks have three players in there lineup over 6 feet 8 inches, with Calathes and Rob Ferguson shooting above 40 percent from the 3-point line.

On the offensive end, the Wildcats will look to use their quickness to exploit St. Joe’s defense. During their last couple of games, the Wildcat offense has been plagued by slow and ineffective starts, often forcing the team to come back from large deficits.

Capturing the game’s early momentum will be critical for the ‘Cats and may help silence a notoriously raucous St. Joe’s crowd. Again, the Wildcat backcourt will be the focal point for the St. Joe’s defense. Containing the driving abilities of Reynolds and Corey Fisher will be crucial in trying to pull off an upset victory over the Wildcats, who have captured the last three meetings. Wildcat’s head coach Jay Wright continues to use a deep bench with 10 players seeing significant action.

By the time this game rolls around, Wright could be utilizing an 11-man rotation if sophomore Casiem Drummond is able to return to the court. Drummond’s inside presence and deft rebounding ability has been sorely missed. Shane Clark, who has struggled on the offensive end after averaging close to 17 points per game in Villanova’s first few games, could be the X-factor for the Wildcats.

Ultimately, expect the ‘Cats to earn the local bragging rights with their guards proving too much for the Hawks defense to handle. A victory by Villanova would earn them another Big 5 title and place them in sole possession of first place in the Big Five’s all-time series, one game ahead of St. Joe’s.

Villanova 77, St. Joseph’s 64.