Pregame: Syracuse vs. Villanova

Jay Wright's 12-3 Villanova Wildcats come to the Carrier Dome for a Saturday afternoon tilt. The Wildcats are led by stellar off-guard Scottie Reynolds, who is averaging 17 ppg on the season. Syracuse enters the game in a log-jam in the middle of the Big East standings, but the silver lining is that at 3-2 overall they are only a half game out of first place.

Villanova enters the game ranked #21 in the AP poll, sporting a 12-3 overall record. They completed the non-conference portion of their schedule with an excellent 10-1 record, but they have already lost both of their road games in conference to DePaul and Cincinnati, respectively. They do have a big win over Pitt and also avenged their road loss to DePaul by beating them 76-69 at home. Their best non-conference wins came against George Mason, Penn, LSU, and Temple. Because their non-conference schedule was not particularly strong, they are only ranked #43 in the RPI.

Jay Wright's team is much the same as always. They like to stress tough man-to-man defense and they rely heavily on perimeter play to set the tempo of the game. Their best players line up on the wings, where they are capable of hitting from long range or slashing to the basket and finishing strong. They don't stress post play the way that many other Big East teams do, but their recent success with a guard-oriented offense suggests that Wright has hit on a winning formula for Big East play.

The mainstay on this team is sophomore Scottie Reynolds. He is a multi-purpose guard who can score in a variety of ways. He can be deadly from the perimeter if you let him get his rhythm, but he can also score in transition, hit the mid-range jumper, and take the ball to the basket. He thrives at drawing contact on his drives, and he gets to the line for more than 5 attempts a game. This year he has also improved his playmaking quite a bit, registering more than 4 helpers a game. Overall, he's scoring 17 ppg on 42.5% shooting from the field and 37.2% shooting from beyond the arc.

The rest of the roster is not as offensively gifted, but Wright has a lot of depth and gets scoring contributions from many sources. Flashy freshman point guard Corey Fisher has been in and out of the starting lineup and has driven Wright mad with inconsistent play at times, but he's still been good for 11.4 ppg. Fisher is a shoot-first type of guard who needs to work on his shot selection. Like Reynolds, he can be deadly if he is allowed to get into a rhythm, but he is also the type of young player who has been known to get frustrated with the SU zone. Fisher has been pretty reliable with the ball this year, having registered only 23 turnovers in 14 games.

Shane Clark is the 3rd option on the offense. He is a versatile offensive player who has greatly improved his perimeter shooting, does a decent job on the glass, and works within the flow of the offense. He's not the type of player that is likely to go off for 25+ points, but it is a good bet that he'll hit for double digits with his well developed mid-range game. He is a dangerous player for SU to watch because he is very good at finding the seams in the zone and getting to areas for open 10 to 15 footers, which he shoots very well.

Dante Cunningham and Reggie Redding do most of the dirty work. Redding doesn't have much of an offensive game, but he is an excellent defender and provides the type of steady "glue" play that Wright always values. Cunningham is developing as an offensive player (10.5 ppg) and is the team's best rebounder. He's a strong athlete who will likely match up with Donte Greene. Redding will probably guard Paul Harris.

Depth is provided by Malcolm Grant, Antonio Pena, Casiem Drummond, and Corey Stokes. Grant has been deadly on the perimeter this season (24-46, 52.2% 3pt). Pena is an efficient offensive player who is posting 7 ppg in only 14.7 minutes off the bench. Pena is excellent at establishing position on the baseline and sliding behind players to get to the basket. He's not an explosive athlete, but he knows the game very well and is the type of player that could take advantage of the zone just due to his understanding of angles and positioning. Pena was inserted in the starting lineup for 'Nova's last game against DePaul, and he responded with a strong 17 point, 9 rebound effort.

Drummond is a 6-10 sophomore who has seen his playing time diminish recently, but look for him to get some minutes today to try and offset Arinze Onuaku in the post. Drummond is a good rebounder and the team's best shot blocker.

Corey Stokes, the final member of the regular rotation, has been somewhat of a disappointment this year. He came to Philly with a McDonald's All-American tag and the reputation of being a bigtime scorer, but has struggled with his shot so far. However, Wright has hinted that he is starting to adjust to Big East play and consequently he got major minutes off the bench in the last game. He's got good size at 6-5 and is another player who can be a deadly shooter if left uncontested.

Like the Orange, the Wildcats rely a lot on youngsters, with freshmen Fisher, Grant, Pena, and Stokes all playing major roles in the rotation. The biggest difference is that Reynolds, their dynamic and versatile sophomore scoring guard, is still playing while Syracuse's dynamic and versatile junior scoring guard is on the shelf for the rest of the year.

This is a very good Villanova team, but it is the type of team that Syracuse needs to be able to beat at home. With SU's apparent road woes, they can't afford to lose this game with a trip to their place pending later in the season. Nova projects as a team that Syracuse might find itself competing with for an NCAA tourney slot if both teams fall on the bubble, so beating them in head to head play is essential. In retrospect, it appears that last year's Syracuse/Villanova game in Philadelphia was essentially a "play-in" game for the tourney. The Orange would be well served to keep this in mind and dole out some payback this afternoon.

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