Villanova Comes to the Dome to Take on Syracuse

With seven teams crowded together in the middle of the Big East pack, separated by just one and a half games, ESPN's Big Monday contest between two of those teams, #24 Syracuse and Villanova, looms large. The game begins at 7 p.m. in the Carrier Dome.

Syracuse (17-6, 7-5) and Villanova (14-11, 6-6) fight for the essential first-round bye occupied by the top four teams in conference for the Big East tournament. Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Providence seem to have a lock on the first three spots, leaving Syracuse, Seton Hall, Notre Dame, Boston College, West Virginia, Villanova and Rutgers vying for the final first-round bye.

Syracuse returns home after its 57-54, too-close-for-comfort, come-from-behind win against Georgetown on Saturday at the MCI Center. After starting the season 13-1, Syracuse needed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Gerry McNamara to win just their fourth game out of the past nine.

Syracuse's opportunity to defend its national championship remains in jeopardy as it fights for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The Orangemen need to have a decent showing in their remaining four regular season games to secure a spot.

The Orangemen overcame a sloppy game at Georgetown, committing a season-high 25 turnovers and shooting just 50 percent from the free-throw line. McNamara, who finished with 13 points, hit his final three 3-pointers in the last six minutes of the game to urge Syracuse to victory.

McNamara said after the game that he hopes his buzzer-beater will help break him and the team out of their scoring and winning slump.

Syracuse comes into the game averaging 75.8 points per game, but has only eclipsed that mark two times in their last nine games.

Hakim Warrick, one of the finalists for the national player of the year award, leads the Orangemen with 19.9 points per game and 9.1 rebounds per game.

McNamara, who has taken over ball-handling responsibilities with Billy Edelin's absence, averages 16.3 points per game. Josh Pace has also shared that responsibility and Demetris Nichols has taken Edelin's starting spot.

Edelin is not expected to play for the sixth straight game due to "personal reasons."

Villanova is coming into Monday night's game off a loss at Seton Hall on Saturday. The Wildcats nearly overcame a 15-point deficit with 3 minutes and 30 seconds to play, but lost 70-68.

Villanova has four players averaging points in double figures. Allan Ray leads the team with 17.5 points per game, while Curtis Sumpter (15.5 ppg), Randy Foye (14.1 ppg) and Mike Nardi (10.9 ppg) round it out.

Villanova has lost three of its last four games and will be making its first trip to the Carrier Dome in four years. The two teams did not meet last season.

Syracuse now sits in a tie with Seton Hall for the fourth spot in Big East play, but the Pirates hold the tiebreaker with a win over Syracuse earlier in the year.

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