#8 Villanova Wildcats (11-0) vs. #2 Syracuse Orange (11-0)
When: Saturday, December 28, 2 p.m.
Where: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY
Syracuse’s Previous Season Record: 30-10, Lost to Michigan in Final Four of NCAA Tournament
Key Players for Syracuse: #5 C.J. Fair (6-8, 215) Sr., F; #3 Jerami Grant (6-8, 210) So., F; #10 Trevor Cooney (6-4, 195) So., G; #11 Tyler Ennis (6-2, 180) Fr., G
Scouting Report: Syracuse lost a few key pieces from last season’s run to the Final Four. Michael Carter-Williams left for the NBA and has been doing well for the Sixers. They lost last season’s key contributors Brandon Triche and James Southerland to graduation. Despite what they have lost, Syracuse has not missed a beat. They ride an 11-0 record into Saturday in what will be a rivalry battle of the undefeated. With the key players they have lost, who’s getting it done? C.J. Fair has returned to lead the Orange. He is defending his title as the team’s highest scorer and is posting better numbers this season. Fair is averaging 17.8 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per game. He gets the job done in the frontcourt. The last time Villanova traveled north to the Carrier Dome, he was the player of the game. Fair had 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 blocks. While Fair can post impressive numbers when it comes to scoring, his turnover numbers are not-so-impressive. He averages 3.2 turnovers per game, but as of lately he has been turning it over quite a bunch. He had seven turnovers in the previous game against High Point. Over the last four games he has totaled 18 turnovers, in the first four games combined he had only nine. Helping Fair out in the frontcourt will be Jerami Grant. Grant has lots of ties to basketball, it runs in the family. His two brothers played basketball at the collegiate level, with the younger one currently playing at Notre Dame. His father played in the NBA for a little over a decade and his uncle, Horace Grant, played alongside Jordan and the Bulls. He has received an increase in playing time this season, and been productive with it. Grant has 12.9 points per game and does it in a rather efficient manner, with a 53.5 shooting percentage. His weakness is when he is sent to the free throw line, where he is shooting just below 65%. Also keep an eye out for their big men, Rakeem Christmas and DaJuan Coleman. Both are effective players in the post and are solid rebounders. Christmas is going through a slight decline in production this season, but he still is able to get the job done. In the backcourt, Trevor Cooney has flourished as a quality starter in his first season in the starting lineup. Cooney may be the finest shooter Villanova has faced so far this season. He averages 14.1 points per game and gets the job done from long range. He is shooting 49.3% from beyond the arc, and he is great from the free throw line with 85%. If he can establish himself from three point range, he will give opposing defenses a problem. When he’s hot, he’s on fire. He is a little inconsistent and has shown that he can just be forgotten about when he can’t get it going from the three. The freshman point guard Tyler Ennis received a lot of attention coming out from high school. He is the younger brother of the Wildcats’ own Dylan Ennis. Aside from the Ennis vs. Ennis storyline, he has been living up to the hype his season. He is the facilitator and can score in a multitude of ways. He can score from inside and outside, and also dish out dimes to his teammates. Offensively, Syracuse is a team that can score from anywhere and through anyone. Defensively, they use their trademark Jim Boeheim 2-3 zone defense that has always been effective through all his years at Syracuse.
Outlook: This is a game with a lot at stake. At a smaller scale, there is the Ennis vs. Ennis matchup. Above that, there is the Syracuse-Villanova rivalry that although it may have nothing on Georgetown-Syracuse, Syracuse announced earlier this week that over 30,000 tickets were sold to Saturday’s game. This is a game where Villanova gets to show off their true worth and what they really are made of. It is a statement game for themselves and this new Big East that Syracuse proudly left. The conference itself is trying to establish a reputation and credibility as it only currently has one ranked team, Villanova. Villanova has to take away Cooney’s effectiveness from the three. He is dangerous, but if they can limit their primary long range weapon, it’ll help the Wildcats immensely. The Wildcats have to bring their A-game in every facet of the game. Defensively and offensively, this is a talented Syracuse team, but they have shown glimpses of weakness. St. John’s gave the Orangemen a run for their money at Madison Square Garden. Anyone can be beat, and Villanova has proven that before. JayVaughn Pinkston and James Bell have to do what they can do to restrain C.J. Fair. They both have shown in the Bahamas that when the lights are brightest, they can step up and have a big game. It’ll be a tough game, and Daniel Ochefu will have a chance to prove doubters wrong. He is a great rebounder, and Villanova will need all the boards they can get. He plays great defense, and they will need to stop the Orange machine. Darrun Hilliard and Ryan Arcidiacono need to takeaway the perimeter game. Force Syracuse to look in only one direction to win. It’ll cut them off and put more pressure on Fair and the other guys inside. I believe we have the better Ennis brother and he’ll give Tyler some problems. A win is very possible, the Wildcats cannot afford to waste time and play poorly against a well-coached team like Syracuse.