Villanova's non-conference slate includes impressive wins over Oklahoma, Penn, Iowa, and Temple, but also includes losses to Drexel and Xavier. Lack of consistency has been a common theme throughout the season for the Wildcats.
Sumpter (18.5 ppg, 6.5 rbg, 1.1 st, 80% fg, 37.5% 3pt, 47.2% fg) is one of the league's best all around players, and is back for a 5th season due to a medical redshirt he took last year. He is a true inside-outside scoring presence and has been battling Demetris Nichols for the lead in Big East scoring all season long.
Nardi (13.6 ppg, 4.2 apg) has been much more offensive minded this year. He has been a pass-first point guard throughout his career, but with Allen Ray and Randy Foye gone, Nardi has had to take on a bigger scoring roll in the offense. While he's not a truly outstanding three point shooter, he has connected on 37 shots from beyond the arc and will burn you if left open.
Reynolds, a 6-1 G from Herndon, VA, has been one of the best first year players in the Big East. He averages just under double figures in points, has made 20 three pointers, and is second on the team in assists. His biggest weakness is that he is prone to forcing the action and can be coaxed into freshman mistakes. He leads the 'Cats in turnovers.
Cunningham, a 6-9 SO forward from Washington DC, has improved his offensive game from last year and provide decent rebounding and defense on the interior. He's not going to wow you with his play, but he and Sheridan form a steady, consistent duo up from.
Unlike last season, when 'Nova used primarily 3- or 4-guard sets, this year they have been using a lot of 3-forward sets. Sheridan (6.7 ppg, 5.4 rbg) has never blossomed into a dominating type of Big East player, but he is fundamentally sound and does a great job of playing within his limitations.
Off the bench: 6-6 SO F Shane Clark has been providing instant firepower at 9.1 ppg. Clark is another inside-outside player who can make the long range shot and also drive to the basket. He is the heir apparent to the lead scoring roll once Sumpter graduates. Clark is also third on the team in rebounding despite playing only 22.7 minutes per contest.
The other players to watch off the bench are sophomores Dwyane Anderson and Bilal Benn. Anderson is the better offensive player and Benn is a defensive specialist off the bench.
Breakdown: The Wildcats are one of the better offensive teams in the Big East, averaging 76.6 ppg on 46% shooting. They make and take a lot of three pointers, but they don't defend the perimeter that well. The team is also +5.9 on the boards, which shows how fundamentally sound their froncourt is. 'Nova is also exceptional at the free throw line (77.4% as a team).
Jay Wright is a firm believer in forcing turnovers and limiting the opposition's possessions. This is reflected by the fact that the team owns positive +/- ratios in both rebounding and turnovers (+4.2). The combination of taking care of the ball, forcing turnovers, and rebounding missed shots has added up to a staggering 91 more shot attempts than their opponents on the season.
Therefore, as always, the key for the Orange will be taking care of the ball and rebounding it. Syracuse has been much better on the boards of late, but they averaged 18 turnovers per game during their 2-0 road trip. Nova is very dangerous transitioning from defense to offense, so SU cannot afford to give up the ball with that regularity today.
One thing that 'Nova does not do well is defend the three-point shot, as they are allowing 37.5% shooting from beyond the arc. The three pointer has been an important weapon in the Orange arsenal this season, and if Nichols and Devendorf can heat up from long range, Syracuse should be in good shape.
This game has all the trappings of a classic SU/Villanova contest. Nova is somewhat desparate for a win and would hate to fall to 1-3 in league play. Syracuse is jockeying for position in the crowded middle of the Big East and a win today would certainly help propel the Orange towards the top of the league.
Prediction: Syracuse does just enough to pull this on out, overcoming several turnovers and a mediocre effort on the glass. Nichols breaks out of his mini-slump and pours in 20+ points, and Devendorf continues his hot play, matching Nichols point for point. Watkins comes up big with 4+ blocks.
Syracuse 74 Villanova 70.