Thursday, March 01, 2007

Preview of Syracuse @ Villanova, Saturday, March 3, 2007, 2 PM, Wachovia Center

The Wildcats will face the Syracuse Orangemen on Saturday, March 3, 2007, at 2 PM at the Wachovia Center, in the Big East regular-season finale for both schools. A comprehensive preview…

The Viewpoint on the Syracuse Orangemen

Coach - Jim Boeheim

2006-07 Season Overview

10-5 Big East, 21-8 overall, RPI rank #53, Strength-of-Schedule (SOS) #59 (as of’s Sunday, February 25, 2007 rankings.)

Nonconference Schedule

Syracuse opened the year with five straight victories, all at the Carrier Dome and with victory margins of a dozen points or more: St. Francis (NY), Pennsylvania, UTEP, Northeastern, and Charlotte. They then traveled to nearby Jesuit school Canisius and won by 10. The Orangemen, after the brief foray to Buffalo, returned to the cozy Dome for their final eight non-Big East games.

On November 27, 2006, they outlasted Holy Cross (another Jesuit school) 72-64. With a 7-0 record, they then faced their first real tests of the season, two then-ranked opponents from the prairies: then-#17 Wichita State and then-#22 Oklahoma State , losing both. Syracuse, now at 7-2, easily turned back Colgate and Hofstra. At 9-2, they were upset by Bruiser Flint’s surprising Drexel squad, which had also defeated Villanova. They ended 2006 – and their nonconference schedule, with double-digit victories over Hofstra (a blowout) and St. Bonaventure (just by 10 pts). Thus, Syracuse finished nonleague play with a 11-3 record. All three losses were to respectable opponents, but it should be noted that Syracuse had no genuinely quality wins, other than the win over Holy Cross (#67 RPI) and to a certain extent, the courage of traveling to Canisius (it looked OK at the time, as Canisius was even invited to participate in the ESPN Bracketbuster weekend, but the Golden Griffins have now nosedived with six straight losses and now sports a RPI-destroying rank of #250!)

Big East Schedule

Syracuse got off to a great start in Big East play in 2007, winning four of their first five games and sitting at 15-4 overall, well-poised for yet another NCAA appearance. They lost their opener to then-#10 Pitt at the Carrier Dome, but then won @ then-#15 Marquette by a dozen points to start their four-game winning streak. Syracuse won @ Rutgers, beat the Wildcats on January 13, and narrowly escaped last-place Cincinnati by a single point at the Carrier Dome.

The Orangemen then went cold, losing four of their next five. First, they losing @ lowly St. John’s and @ not-so-lowly Louisville. Returning to the Carrier Dome, they were upended by then-#20 Notre Dame. After topping DePaul at home, they fell @ Connecticut. Suddenly, they were 5-5 Big East, 16-8 overall and squarely on the bubble.

In mid-February, Syracuse was able to heat up and played its way into the field of 65, winning five in a row: St. John’s, @ South Florida, Connecticut, @ Providence, and most recently and impressively, upsetting #9 Georgetown at the Carrier Dome on Monday, February 26, 2007. They are assured of doing no worse than 10-6 in Big East play, and the win over the Hoyas was the kind of signature win the Orangemen sorely needed to feel secure on Selection Sunday. And thus, there's no doubt they'll be in the Big Dance.

Here's why they needed that victory over Georgetown. What could have hurt the Orangemen, if they had fallen:

If they had failed to defeat ‘Nova and thus ended up 9-7 with an RPI around #50-53, they were on the bubble. RPIs are not going to fluctuate that much at this point in the season, even with RPI-rich ‘Nova and Georgetown added to their schedule. Even within the BE, Syracuse caught a break in playing lowly St. John’s and Connecticut twice and missing West Virginia entirely. Their only OOC win of any significance is over Holy Cross. Of their other three significant OOC opponents – Drexel, Wichita State, and Oklahoma State – all were home losses. In 2005, the NCAA began weighting home and road victories and defeats, and Syracuse’s three home losses to good teams will further sag their RPI. Until the victory over Georgetown, their bid wasn’t safe, not by any means, especially if they had lost to ‘Nova on Saturday.

Syracuse Starters/Rotation


#30 Josh Wright – Guard – 6-2 – Jr – Utica, NY – 7.2 points/2.0 rebounds/4.2 assists/26.7 min/game

#34 Demetris Nichols – Forward – 6-8 – Sr – Barrington, RI - 19.0 points/5.6 rebounds/34.4 min/game

#33 Terence Roberts – Forward – 6-9 – Sr – Jersey City, NJ - 9.0 points/7.7 rebounds/28.3 min/game

#13 Darryl Watkins – Center – 6-11 – Sr – Paterson, NJ - 8.7 points/7.3 rebounds/28.7 min/game

#23 Eric Devendorf – Guard – 6-4 – Soph – Bay City, MI (via Virginia’s Oak Hill Academy, which produced former Wildcat Jermaine Medley) - 13.1 points/2.8 rebounds/4.2 assists/29.9 min/game

#1 Andy Rautins – Guard – 6-5 – Soph – Jamesville, NY - 7.3 points/1.8 rebounds/19.6 min/game

Off the Bench

#11 Paul Harris – Forward – 6-5 – Freshman – Niagara Falls, NY - 8.4 points/6.9 rebounds/21.9 min/game

#24 Matt Gorman – Forward -6-9 – Senior – Watertown, NY - 3.2 points/1.8 rebounds/13.1 min/game

What to Expect, Based on the First Game

Villanova’s perimeter shooters were unable to fire accurately over the trademark, Boeheim 2-3 zone. Mike Nardi and Scottie Reynolds each went just 2-10 from three-point range, and the team as a whole went just 8-28 (28.6%) from that distance. In contrast, the Orangemen were exceptionally accurate from beyond the arc: 9-17 (52.9%). Syracuse also had a lot of success on the offensive end, scoring 75 points against the normally stingy ‘Nova defense. The 75 points were the second-highest allowed by ‘Nova to a Big East opponent, and the highest allowed to a BE opponent in a loss (the only higher score came from Notre Dame, in VU’s 101-87 victory.) Syracuse shot 54.5% from the floor, also very high for a ‘Nova opponent. They were able to successfully work the ball into the paint to Nichols and Roberts, who combined to go 14-22 from the floor and score 40 points. Roberts, who was coming off a 2 ½ month absence due to injury, grabbed 14 rebounds as well.

It wasn’t all bad news for ‘Nova, though: Curtis Sumpter had one of the best games of his illustrious career, scoring 24 points, grabbing a dozen rebounds and three steals (with no turnovers) in playing 37 minutes.

Jay Wright has significantly changed his bench rotation, however, and that could lead to a different dynamic. Dwayne Anderson, who virtually never plays at all nowadays, had five minutes; likewise for Casiem Drummond, who logged a dozen minutes. In contrast, Reggie Redding (a product of Philadelphia’s St. Joseph’s Prep) has become a key bench player since then; Redding didn’t even get into the game at the Carrier Dome just six weeks ago.

Ironically, both Anderson and Drummond got into the game against UConn on Wednesday, and Drummond actually played significant minutes. It could be a sign that Drummond might re-emerge as a factor against the 'Cuse.

Even among the starters, Dante Cunningham has emerged as a more formidable offensive weapon during that span. He took just three shots in the first game and finished with only four points (and four fouls). His offensive skill set has improved drastically, however, and Syracuse might not be expecting him to be much of a threat.

Villanova Update

The Wildcats (8-7 Big East, 20-9 overall) are coming off a probably-NCAA-clinching victory against UConn, in which Scottie Reynolds exploded for 40 points, evenly split in each half. It was only the 14th time a Wildcat had scored 40 or more points, in the 2,200-plus games in Villanova's 86-year, plus history of intercollegiate competition. As a result, it may soon be possible to determine their seed and/or their opponent in the first round of the Big East tournament on Wednesday, March 7, 2007, in the opening round.

On Monday afternoon, February 25, 2007 - this appeared to be a matchup of two Big East schools, each having a decent shot at the NCAA tournament, but neither entirely secure. After their respective victories earlier this week, however, both Villanova and Syracuse will be dancing, regardless of Saturday's outcome and their respective fates in the Big East tournament next week.

Villanova, at 8-7, certainly needs the game more than Syracuse, at 10-5. The Wildcats are stuck in a four-way logjam for 7th place with Providence, DePaul, and West Virginia, and would certainly help their Big East tournament seed with a victory, as they end up on the short end of many tiebreakers. The Wildcats are mathematically assured of finishing no lower than 10th or higher than 7th, and so we do know already that they will be playing on Wednesday either at noon (if they wind up 8th or 9th) or at 7 PM (if they wind up 7th or 10th).

For that reason, there may be a drop-off in intensity on both sides, in this regular-season finale. Villanova observed Senior Day last Saturday against Rutgers, and properly so, given that it was the last Pavilion game, and so the fact that it's the "home" regular-season finale doesn't carry much weight. That having been said, last year there was the expected likelihood of playing in Philadelphia in the NCAA tournament - which won't happen this year. This will be the final Philadelphia-area game for the quartet of seniors, and so the sellout crowd will be loud and raucous in sending them off, first up to New York and then to the NCAA tournament.

I’ll have a full recap after the game.

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