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Previewing Villanova-Syracuse

It is somewhat rare that a highly anticipated game lives up to its hype. To find an example, all you have to do is go back to earlier this month when Kansas played Texas. Before the season started, this was the game everyone circled. It was supposed to be a battle between top-five teams, both of whom would possibly be undefeated at the time. Instead, Texas was a reeling squad entering the game, and Kansas rolled to victory.

Saturday night’s game is different. It is the game that live up to the hype. It is Vilanova and Syracuse. It is the Big East’s top two teams with first place on the line. It is 34,616 screaming fans at the Carrier Dome. It is the biggest game of the regular season in college basketball.

There is little time let for anticipation because the game is just hours away. Here are the questions that will determine who wins the game:

1) How will Villanova attack Syracuse zone’s defense?

Rather than answer it myself, I’ll let Scottie Reynolds do it. Here’s what he had to say on Friday:

“They like to get in passing lanes so you always have to look to score first. The passes will open. If you are looking to pass first, you will have a lot of turnovers. You just have to attack the zone. Don’t look for passes. Look for your shot first and hopefully everything will open up.”

2) How does Syracuse stop Scottie Reynolds?

It will need to rotate quickly, and try to trap him any chance it gets. Reynolds has shown all season that he can hit the open shot if it is given to him. Against a zone defense, Reynolds will have his opportunities to score from beyond the arc. Syracuse must know where Reynolds is at all times because he is the only Wildcat that has consistently connected from long range this season.

3) How does Villanova stop Wesley Johnson?

Villanova’s defensive stopper this season has been Reggie Redding. He shut down Dominique Jones on Wednesday and did the same to Da’Sean Butler earlier in the season. Redding will likely be matched up with Johnson, but Villanova switches often on defense. It needs to make sure that Johnson does not see many smaller defenders or he will be able to shoot over them.

4) What challenges does Syracuse’s frontcourt present?

On Friday, Jay Wright said that Syracuse’s frontcourt was the best he has seen all season. The Orange keep Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku on the block and allow them to do their work to get open and offensive rebound. The Wildcats will need to deny entry into the post, while also being focused on limiting offensive rebounds, something that led to their demise against Pittsburgh. With Mouphtaou Yarou coming off a strong performance on Wednesday, look for him to be given a chance to neutralize the Orange’s bigmen.

5) Will the large crowd have any affect on Villanova’s younger players?

The Wildcats have been lucky enough to already play at West Virginia and Pittsburgh before Saturday’s game, but the Carrier Dome is a different animal. It will be large, loud and unlike anything the younger players have ever seen. While the Carrier Dome is a unique environment, Villanova has played well there, winning its last two trips to the building. Villanova will come ready to play, and while it may take the younger players a few minutes to soak in the environment, eventually it will just become a basketball game. Today, Corey Stokes summed up the team’s take on the atmosphere:

“We’re basketball players. We love playing in front of the big crowds when the lights are on. Everybody lives for that.”

Basketball fans live for it too. Saturday night is almost here.

-David Cassilo

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