By Sean Kennedy
2:00 PM: Villanova (11-0, 0-0 Big East) @ Syracuse (11-0, 0-0 ACC) – CBS
In their last non-conference game before starting their conference schedule in the revamped Big East, it’s only fitting that Villanova will be up against an old Big East rival in the Syracuse Orange. With a matchup pitting the the 2nd- and 8th-ranked teams in the country against each other, this contest may well be the toughest test for the Wildcats going forward throughout the rest of the season. Like the Kansas game earlier this season, what happens at the Carrier Dome may go a long way to determine tournament seedings among the top teams come March.
Despite losing Brandon Triche, James Southerland, and Sixers star rookie Michael Carter-Williams from last year’s Final Four team, Syracuse has looked as strong as ever this season, already sporting victories over top foes like Minnesota, Baylor, Indiana, and California. Although both teams are great in multiple facets of the game, this battle represents the old unstoppable force vs. immovable object as Villanova rates as the 2nd-best defense in the nation, while Syracuse sports a top-10 offense. The Whether or not the Wildcats can slow down the Syracuse attack will likely be the deciding factor in this matchup.
That Orange attack is led by 6’8″ C.J. Fair, averaging a team-high 17.8 ppg along with 5.3 rebounds. Fair currently projects as a 2nd-round NBA draft pick, playing power forward for Syracuse while continuing to work on his perimeter game to play small forward at the next level. His jumper has improved the last two seasons but is still far from polished; Villanova would be better off letting him try his luck from the outside and bar access into the lane, where he can be deadly. The starting backcourt of Tyler Ennis (brother of Villanova guard Dylan Ennis) and Trevor Cooney are both among the nation’s leaders in steals, excelling in the 2-3 defense that coach Jim Boeheim loves to employ. Villanova will need to take care of the ball around that pair to prevent easy run-outs in transition for the Orange.
I’d like to say I know some key metric that will determine the winner in this one, but the truth is, both teams are incredibly talented and the outcome could go either way. Enjoy this battle between two of the best teams in college basketball. We may be lucky enough to see it again in March.