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Syracuse men’s basketball vs. Villanova preview: Things to watch

9:30 p.m. on a Tuesday? It’s late-night coffee time.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Auburn Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

While we haven’t been in the Big East since 2013, there’s certainly a vocal portion of the Syracuse Orange fan base that pines for what was (even if “what was” is really more like two decades ago before the first round of realignment altered the conference’s makeup). Those complaints grow even louder, of course, when the SU men’s basketball team matches up with a former Big East foe — as they do twice this week.

First up among those opponents are the Villanova Wildcats. ‘Nova is pretty good this year, as you might have figured. Beyond that, what else should you be on the lookout for while taking this game in? As a preview, we have some things to note below.

John: Three-point shooting

Syracuse’s three-point shooting has been one of the biggest stories of its season, on both ends of the floor. When the Orange are hitting from outside, they certainly stand a better chance to win, and more than normal here, they’ll need to hope ‘Nova can’t connect from distance. The Wildcats are seventh in the country by three-point percentage, hitting 42.2% of their shots from outside. That’s not ideal for an Orange team allowing teams to hit 34.9% (249th) on the year. Whether you take issue with that stat pull or not probably depends on what you believe about Florida State’s three-point struggles vs. SU over the weekend.

Zeke: Possible Cole Swider revenge game

Tonights game marks the first time since transferring to Syracuse that Swider will match up against his alma mater, Villanova. I expect to see the best of Swider tonight and to play with a unique type of fire that can only be found in contests that have a personal aspect to them for an athlete. Swider spent three years at Villanova before transferring and most certainly doesn’t want to lose to them in arguably the greatest sporting venue in the country. He knows Villanova inside and out, maybe even feeling pressure within himself to show Syracuse why they made the right choice brining him in, and in turn, making Villanova regret letting him slip away from them. In a matchup with personal retribution for Swider, expect to see the best from him when the lights shine brightest in MSG on Tuesday night.

Szuba: Syracuse defense

Syracuse’s ability (or inability) to get stops against the No. 4 team in offensive efficiency could determine the outcome of this game. The Orange haven’t been a good defensive squad all year but showed signs of improvement on Saturday. I’m curious whether that defensive and rebounding effort will continue and just how much Jim Boeheim goes to his 1-1-3 defense set vs. the traditional 2-3 zone. Either way, Villanova is a better shooting team than Florida State. As John mentioned above, the Wildcats knock down threes at a ridiculous 42.2% clip. It’s imperative that Syracuse is able to contest outside shots tonight otherwise this one could get ugly.

Kevin: Playing Smart Basketball

When the Orange have committed to rebounding and sharing the basketball they have been successful this year. Villanova is going to challenge Syracuse on both ends of the floor so it will be important for the Orange to play hard and smart. Can Syracuse continue to be patient and move the ball on offense or will they fall into the bad habit of isolation ball?

Christian: Keep the ball moving

The last thing I want to see is for the ball to get stuck in someone’s hands for too long. Syracuse has got to play hot potato with the basketball and stop waiting around to see how the possession will develop. No one is moving around off the ball to create something, so the ball has to move to avoid the isolation ball trap that the Orange so often finds itself in. Villanova is holding its opponents to just over 63 points per game. Syracuse has to create something in order to keep up with the Wildcats.