Last we saw Villanova they were nearly ending our lives on the football field, and... oh, basketball? What's that?
Yes, last year's basketball game between Villanova and Syracuse was also a fun one, albeit much more so for Orange fans. Down by 18 early, things looked dire for SU until a phenomenal first-half run that continued on into a dominant second for a big 78-62 victory. At the time, it was a sign that the unbeaten Orange had arrived. Should SU pull off another win over a top-10 'Nova team this year, it would be a sign of life for an Orange squad in need of some hope.
Below, Brian Ewart (who you should already be following on Twitter) from SB Nation's VU Hoops, stops by to chat all about our former Big East rivals, the Villanova Wildcats. Join us below, and swing over there too if you'd like to see our answers.
Has this matchup lost some of its luster for you guys given the Orange's rough start? Are you pointing and laughing or bemoaning the lack of a strength-of-schedule bump?
Maybe a little of the luster is gone; fans were definitely expecting a ranked opponent to come into the WFC and deliver an RPI strength-of-schedule boost. Still, the game is one of those ones that Villanova fans love to see on the schedule: a big name, big conference opponent with an excess of common basketball history. Those games never get old (but yes, there may be some pointing and laughing).
Regarding Villanova; Do you feel like the Wildcats have really been tested as of this point in the season?
I'm not really sure, the Michigan game sure felt like a test at times, but the victory there, even with their comeback may have ultimately been inevitable. Villanova has (and will) played some teams that are surely going to have a good season, but they're playing them early on -- VCU may still win the A-10, Illinois should be a good team in the Big Ten -- things aren't as crisp in November and December as they will be in March. Villanova is starting hot and that's helping them take care of business. Syracuse's 2-3 zone is always a challenge for Villanova's style of play -- they've won against it in the past, but it takes either some very good offensive execution, or defense so smothering that you can score all points in transition -- we'll see if this game is that test.
What are expectations looking like for 'Nova? Tepid excitement, or dreams of a Final Four trip? (or somewhere in between)
Expectations are high. Anything less than finishing the season with a Big East title will be a disappointment this year. All of the pieces seem to be in place to make a run this year. I'm personally not sure that I'd expect a Final Four run, but this is definitely a team that looks like it should be able to make a bit of noise in March. Nova Nation had high hopes last season as well, and suffered the wrath of Dougie McBuckets, who exposed a glaring weakness repeatedly, and things fell a little short of the early expectations, however.
The Wildcats seem well-balanced on offense. Is there one player in particular who could really blow up against Syracuse on Saturday?
Oh, did you want me to expand on that? Villanova has had a few different players lead scoring for them so far this season and they really do a good job of sharing the ball on offense and being unselfish. There are four players who all hover around using 20% of possession -- Dylan Ennis, Darrun Hilliard, JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu -- and guys like Josh Hart who doesn't usually use a ton of possessions but dropped 20 on Temple, or Phil Booth who had a hot hand against St. Joes; any of those guys could be the one to have a big day on Saturday. If I had to pick, however, I'd go with either Daniel Ochefu or JayVaughn Pinkston, based on how I see the 'Cats attacking the zone. I'm sure I'll be wrong.
Any concerns with this group against the Orange's zone defense?
Yes. Villanova hasn't really made a habit of using the high-post, and they will have to adjust to a team that is both good at executing the 2-3 and relentless in doing so. That defense is a good one to get a barometer for how good the Wildcats will be, and the teams that have had issues have usually struggled mightily against it.
Rakeem Christmas is SU's only night-in, night-out hope for success this year. Can VIllanova contain him in the paint?
Possibly. Daniel Ochefu has really progressed a lot this season, and I would expect him to be assigned to Christmas on the inside. Of course, that would leave undersized JayVaughn Pinkston to get on 6'10" Chris McCullough, so there isn't much of a bargain there. If the Orange can feed the post well, there will be an advantage inside one way or another.
"F&@k Georgetown," right?
Predictions for this one? Assuming you're much more optimistic than we are right now.
I'll go on a limb and predict a Villanova win. I'll venture that the score could be pretty close though, so I'll pencil in the 'Cats winning by 10 or fewer points and maybe giving some of the wine-and-cheese fans a few heart palpitations in the process.