I'd like to thank Sean Keeley, of the outstanding SB Nation Syracuse blog, Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician, for taking the time to provide some insights on Jim Boeheim and his #4 Syracuse Orange squad... The #7 Wildcats will be forging their way through the snow-clogged East Coast to get to the Carrier Dome for the Saturday night showdown...
Troy Nunes also has published a question-and-answer post on Villanova - you can click here to read Sean's questions on the Wildcats, and my answers (in the most detail, on where Scottie Reynolds falls in the pantheon of Villanova legends...)
Without further ado:
1) I remain mystified as to why Villanova plays so well at the , both recently, and all-time. Syracuse has been a power in the Big East, and nationally, for decades, so it's not like you had a rough patch and we racked up some easy wins.
We're 13-13 all-time at the Carrier Dome, which I have to think is probably among the best records up there, for any conference opponent (or any opponent). And most recently, we've won three of the last four games against you up there - last season, 2008, and 2006; we lost in 2007.
(Regrettably, this luck did not extend to the building as a whole, as we very memorably lost an upset bid to top-seeded North Carolina - the eventual winner - in the 2005 Sweet 16 at the Carrier Dome.)
Do you have any idea?
If I knew I'd be on the phone to Boeheim right now with the answer. Recently, I think it's just been an issue of Nova catching the Orange at the right time. You guys have either been the better team or we've been on par and things played out as they do.
It's a great series in general. SU leads the all-time 34-30, which is even closer than SU-G'town and SU-UConn. Maybe you guys have been our true rival all along and we didn't know it.
I think it just comes down to a lot of ebbs and flows between the two programs. There's been a lot of ups and downs and chances for each team to take advantage of the other for a while. But there's also been a lot of times they come in evenly-matched, like this year.
2) In both victories last season, we scored a lot of points: 102 points at the Wachovia Center and 89 at the Dome. (Two major reasons are gone - Dante Cunningham had 31 in the first game and 12 in the second; and Dwayne Anderson had just seven in the first, but 22 in the second game.) What will Boeheim try to do to slow down our offense, the way that Pitt did so successfully ?
My guess would be that Boeheim wants the ball in the hands of Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku as much as possible. Rick is coming off a monster game at Providence (28 points) and the Orange are relying on the two bigmen more and more as the season goes on. Especially if Wes Johnson or Andy Rautins get a little cold on the outside, it's up to the big guys to control the paint and the tempo.
Of course, the Orange like to take their shots as well so I don't think Rautins or Wes will be shy early on. I'm curious to see how the Orange will attack the Villanova guardplay as it's probably our weakest defensive spot versus your strongest offensive one. We might see Wes and Andy taking on more of a role up top. If so, Arinze and Rick become that much more important on defense to control the basket.
As the Orange proved against Providence they can score with anyone, so, worst case...we'll shoot it out.
3) You really stole our thunder, last year, during the Big East tournament. We had the first game that day, with Anderson's buzzer-beater rolling in to oust Marquette. We were the lead story on "SportsCenter" at dinnertime. Then, of course, there was the epic saga between you and UConn, in six overtimes, with the Orange ultimately pulling the upset. Knocked us right off the front pages.
I have never seen a more bizarre game. Thoughts, nearly a year later?
Now that we've got a little perspective I think it just becomes that much more impressive. Six overtimes is a LONG-ASS TIME. Have you watched any of the double overtime or triple overtime games this year? That's long enough. Now throw in three more overtimes. Against one of your bitter rivals. With Tournament seeding on the line. Not to mention you're playing in MSG. Every element was there to make it memorable. I think the only thing that doesn't hold up (to the unbiased watcher) is that the Orange put it away early in the sixth OT so there isn't that last-second drama. But believe me, by then, that was fine with us. I just wanted to go to sleep.
If you didn't like hearing about it last year, you probably don't want to watch any hype leading into this year's BET. I can pretty much guarantee you every ESPN package will begin and end with clips from it.
Who knows, perhaps we'll see each other in the late rounds to try and top it.
4) Is there room for more than one Big East team, on the top line of the ? With our losses to UConn and Pitt last week, I think that if we lose on Saturday, our chances have been fatally damaged, unless we were to win the Big East tournament and pick up another win or two over another Big East titan.
And conversely, what about Syracuse? If we win on Saturday, do you think you still have a fighting chance at a top seed?
Yeah I think if Syracuse wins on Saturday and then does what they need to do from here on out, they're a 1-seed. If Villanova wins, that puts them right back in the hunt and doesn't necessarily jeopardize Syracuse's chances. Assuming the Orange win-out and then go to the BET Finals, they should still be in good shape.
But a loss by Nova puts them squarely in 2-Seedville. At that point, it's probably going to come down to the BET. Don't know if Nova will have to win it, but they'll probably at least have to make it to the finals.
Then again, there's still so much basketball to be played and both teams still have a lot of tough games ahead. We've got a rematch with Louisville looming, you've got the West Virginia game coming up. With the Big East the way it is, you never know.
In theory, we're looking at Kansas, Kentucky, Duke/Purdue and Syracuse/Villanova but you never know what's going to happen so I think the Orange and Cats still both have a good shot.
5) What has been the biggest surprise for Syracuse this year?
Besides being ranked in the top five most of the season when you were picked to finish sixth in the Big East? There's been so many nice surprises to choose from. Wes Johnson's ascension to possible POY, Andy Rautin's leadership, Scoop Jardine's growth...I think I'm going to go with Kris Joseph's sophomore leap.
I'm sure it works this way with most teams but with Syracuse, there's always one guy who makes the leap from freshman to sophomore year. This time it's our sixth man Kris Joseph. Joseph has been sensational off the bench, providing a scoring spark when needed, grabs plenty of boards and has given the Orange a great change of pace when someone needs a rest. Since Jim Boeheim always keeps his bench short and this year is no exception, having a starter-quality guy coming off the bench like that is so under-appreciated.
With Rautins, Arinze Onuaku and (almost certainly) Wes Johnson leaving after this season, it will be Kris Joseph's team next year. And that's fine by SU fans.
6) What is the biggest difference between last year's Syracuse team and this year's?
There's a team mentality there this year that just hasn't been there in year's past. Even last year. I love Jonny Flynn and there isn't a Syracuse fan out there who wouldn't want Flynn on this team right now ( think about how much better they could have been?) but Jonny was also a mini-superstar and that took away from the team mentality.
Now? We've got a superstar (Wes) but he plays like a role-player (sometimes to his detriment). He's just as likely to figure out how to set someone else up as he is to find his own shot. He doesn't play like he's concerned for the stat sheet. Like the other guys, he's part of a well-oiled machine. That shows on offense and it certainly shows on defense, which the Orange are playing like a different unit this season than anything we've seen in a while.
Everyone liked to harp on the zone itself as the key. But a badly-played zone is no more effective than anything else. It's the guys playing the defense that make it work and these guys make it work.
Thanks to Sean for his answers. Take a look at Troy Nunes, it's well worth it...