Syracuse will face off against its former Big East rival on Saturday in a battle of two undefeated teams. Here is a quick look at the game:
BACK ON TRACK: Jay Wright transformed Villanova into a perennial contender in the late 2000s, taking his team to at least the Sweet 16 each year between 2005 and 2009. The Wildcats earned a trip to the 2009 Final Four where they lost to eventual champion North Carolina. But it’s been a dry period for Wright’s group since then. The Wildcats were upset in the Round of 32 by St. Mary’s the following year as a 2-seed, and were dropped in the opening round of the 2011 and 2013 tournament. The 2012 season marked only the second time in Wright’s tenure that he failed to produce a winning team and the first time one of his Villanova teams didn’t earn a postseason berth, with the Wildcats suffering through an abysmal 13-19 season. Barring a collapse, that streak will end this year. The Wildcats returned their core group from a team that went 20-14 last year and have started the season 11-0 with a statement win against Andrew Wiggins and then-No. 2 Kansas in the Battle 4 Atlantis in November.
SCOUTING THE WILDCATS: Two of the holdovers from last year’s squad are key reasons why the Wildcats boast an 11-0 record. Forward JayVaughn Pinkston leads the team in scoring at 16.5 points per game, and has increased his shooting percentage to over 51 percent. Meanwhile, senior James Bell is having a breakout season. In 28 minutes a game last year, Bell averaged 8.6 ppg. In the same amount of playing time this season, Bell is second on the team in scoring at 15.4 points and is tops on the team in rebounding at 6.5 boards per game. Keep an eye out for Tyler Ennis’ older brother, Dylan, who owns a better than 3:1 turnover ratio.
HISTORICALLY SPEAKING: Syracuse and Villanova played twice last season, splitting a home-and-home. On Jan. 12, CJ Fair’s 22 points was part of a second-half offensive explosion as the Orange went on to win 72-61 at the Carrier Dome. But not even three weeks later, Villanova got their revenge, as Ryan Arcidiacono’s 3-pointer sent the game to overtime where the Wildcats won 75-71 against a then-No. 3 Orange team playing without sharpshooter James Southerland. Syracuse leads the all-time series 38-32.
GAME INFORMATION: Saturday, Dec. 28 at 2 p.m. at the Carrier Dome. TV: CBS.