Syracuse vs. Villanova: Get To Re-Know The Wildcats

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Remember these guys? We used to play them a long time ago. Like…months ago.

Remember the Villanova Wildcats? They're a Roman Catholic university located just outside Philadelphia. Apparently, they play basketball in something called the Big East Conference. Sounds neat.

I wanted to learn more since the Syracuse Orange will host these wild Pennsylvania cats over the weekend. I turned to Brian Ewart from VUHoops.com for answers to my burning questions (oh and I answered some Q's for him as well). Let's learn more about these…how do you say…Villanova?

What's it like putting the New Big East on your back and carrying it for an entire season?

I guess it’s something like being a Gonzaga fan before the WCC added BYU and SMC decided to corner the market for Australians. Building a Big East without football schools was always going to be a big challenge, but there was a chance that it wouldn’t suck if Villanova, Georgetown and Marquette were good and Butler, Creighton and Xavier were going to be elite as well. That may happen eventually, but we’re not seeing it so far.

The really scary thing was that Villanova wasn’t supposed to be this good.

Who is Villanova's No. 1 rival now?

By process of elimination, it’s going to be Georgetown. There’s history (1985) and now that they can’t obsess over those orange guys in that dome, their fans seem to be a little more interested in what’s happening in Philly.

Someone who graduated from Villanova before 1980 is going to disagree with me and say that the answer is St. Joseph’s or the Big 5 generally. I love that tradition, but I think on a whole those rivalries have to take a back seat to conference rivals. That said, losing a game to St. Joes or La Salle is a far worse offense than dropping the occasional game at the Verizon Center.

Does Syracuse's move from the Big East and everything that followed it make Villanova fans hate us more or lessen the passion for this game?

Nah. I think Villanova fans hate some of the other Big East schools more, West Virginia, Pitt, and Rutgers are high on that list. I honestly think that Syracuse got let off the hook pretty easily on the Main Line. For this season and next, though, this game is probably one of the toughest on the Wildcats’ schedule and it’s going to be important to schedule like that with this league.

The passion comes from the fact that Villanova fans know ‘Cuse. They all have some vague idea that Jim Boeheim must be cheating (I mean, it’s COLD up there, guys), and a lot of them have a good Carrier Dome story or two. There hasn’t been enough time post-Big Eat to really forget that stuff, and hey, it’s a top-10 match-up…

If you're making a Top 5 moments from SU - Villanova, what do you rank up there?

Last season’s game at the Wells Fargo Center has to be up there, just because it was so unexpected for Villanova and those kids rushed the court. Both times that Villanova took part in a game that broke the Dome’s attendance record have to make the list, even if GMac wasn’t able to carry the Orange on his back at the dome in March 2006 like he did a week later. Going through three overtimes at the Dome in the 1980 Big East Tournament final is also a moment that people will talk about forever.

Going back to the start of the Big East, there were a number of great games between these two teams. A cellar-dwelling Villanova knocked off the Orange at MSG in 1991, near the end of Rollie Massimino’s tenure. Syracuse was the top-seed in the Big East that season, so it was a huge upset, especially given how bad the season had gone for Nova.

If Villanova is going to win this game, what three things need to happen?

Defense. Villanova is #2 in the country at defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com, but Syracuse is no slouch offensively. The Wildcats’ offense isn’t as efficient, so they are going to have to get stops to slow down Syracuse.

The other major factor is rebounding on both sides of the floor — Villanova has been pretty good at it this season, but they need to keep up that pace at the Dome. Nova is in love with the 3-point shot this season; only six schools take a higher percentage of their shots from deep. In the Carrier Dome, though, that could easily translate into a season-high number of misses, so working the offensive glass hard will be important.

I also think James Bell has to get back on track. In November, we were wondering what sort of super-Wheaties they were feeding him, because he seemed to emerge from the shadows to turn into a star. The last two games were pretty quiet though. Villanova didn’t really need him against La Salle and Rider, but they will need as much depth as they can muster against Syracuse.

Who will Villanova lose to in the NCAA Second Round this year?

That’s a great question? Villanova is looking at around a 2 or 3 seed early this season, so whoever they open the NCAA Tournament against, I doubt they’ll be an underdog. Joe Lunardi is giving them Bucknell currently, and CBS Sports’s Jerry Palm is giving them Bryant.

If Bryant beats Villanova, the entire new Big East may be forced to cancel their basketball programs.

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