Preview & Prediction: By Raphielle Johnson
Just fifteen days after getting blown out in Philadelphia, #25 Syracuse (19-7, 7-6 Big East) will look for payback when they host #14 Villanova (21-5, 9-4) on Sunday afternoon. That first meeting was a 102-85 embarrassment for the Orange, who combined an ineffective Arinze Onuaku (knee injury) with a nonexistent defense to seal their fate. Of course the Wildcats had to make those shots (54.5% FG) and grab those rebounds (44-33 edge on the boards; fifteen offensive rebounds), but while crediting Villanova for their effort you have to ask which Syracuse team made the trip. Quite honestly head coach Jim Boeheim has a couple of players who you cannot truly pinpoint to show up night in and night out, which has resulted in a few befuddling results.
Senior forward Dante Cunningham (16.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg) was a man possessed at the Wachovia Center that afternoon, going for thirty-one points and nine rebounds to take full advantage of Onuaku’s limited minutes. But even with Onuaku on the floor his regular 27.6 minutes per game, Syracuse will have its hands full with the most improved player in the Big East. Cunningham can beat you either with his back to the basket or from mid-range, and he’s a solid rebounder and defender as well. Antonio Pena and Shane Clark provide the frontcourt depth for Jay Wright, but it’s that loaded backcourt that has led the way alongside Cunningham in recent weeks.
Scottie Reynolds (15.5 ppg, 3.8 apg) is the man who makes the team go, but the recent consistency of sophomores Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes cannot be ignored. In their win over Rutgers Thursday night the two Coreys combined for thirty-one points off the bench. While Dwayne Anderson and Reggie Redding provide steady play, especially from a defensive standpoint, once the two underclassmen harnessed their enthusiasm and learned to make plays as they came to them instead of forcing the issue. Villanova is the highest-scoring team in the Big East in conference games (80.0 ppg), and they’ve been far more efficient in conference than they were earlier in the season. So it should come as no surprise that the Wildcats have won seven of their last eight games.
As for the Orange, they’ve got an outstanding point guard of their own in sophomore Jonny Flynn (17.5 ppg, 6.1 apg), an athletic floor general who can get to anywhere on the floor in the blink of an eye. But he’s most effective when some of his enigmatic teammates bring energy as well. One guy who has the ability to make things happen offensively is junior guard Eric Devendorf (15.6 ppg, 2.8 apg), who has scored twenty or more points in five of Syracuse’s last six games. He’s slightly more versatile than sharpshooter Andy Rautins at that end of the floor, possessing the ability to drive and get the ball inside to either Onuaku or Rick Jackson. And you cannot ignore the steady play of forward Paul Harris (12.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg), a 6-4 forward who plays as if he’s a 6-9 big man.
Syracuse is their most effective when they play inside-out; get the ball in to Onuaku and Jackson and from there the outside shots for Devendorf and Rautins will come. That first meeting saw the Orange, with Onuaku rendered ineffective by his knee, settle for contested jumpers almost from the start. Of their sixty-three field goal attempts on February 7th, twenty-nine came from behind the arc. To put that percentage (46%) in perspective, only 32% of their field goals this season have come from three-point range. In front of a raucous crowd and in need of a marquee win for their tournament resume, look for the Orange to be a bit more judicious in their shot selection. Both teams are potent on the offensive end, which should mean a tight contest throughout. But look for the home team to prevail, hopefully playing with a sense of urgency.
Winner: Syracuse Margin: 3-7 pts.
Editor's Early Preview
*Made on 02/06. Full preview by the GameNight staff coming soon!
Neither of these teams will be vying for the Big East title, so the only thing on the line is Tournament seeding and Top 25 success. These teams are relatively evenly matched talent-wise, but the Cuse should be easy home favorites.
Early Prediction: Syracuse