The details of Saturday’s game between Syracuse and Villanova are not exactly the same as they’ve been when the two teams have met in the past. This year the game is arriving a bit earlier than it usually does. And it is no longer a conference game. Still, the battle between the pair of long time Big East rivals, both boasting top ten rankings and flawless records, should be as much fun as ever, in spite of Cuse’s recent leap to the ACC.
Fresh off a fantastic 30 win campaign which culminated in a final four trip, Syracuse has roared out of the gate this year and commands the number two spot in the polls. They’re led by C.J. Fair, the steady, complete senior forward whose name has rightfully been thrown around in early season National Player of the Year conversations. The Robin to Fair’s Batman has been sophomore guard Trevor Cooney, an impossibly gifted shooter and feisty defender. But Cuse’s greatest strength might be their supporting cast: diaper dandy point man Tyler Ennis is a stud and went 10-10 at the line in a recent game against St. John’s and Jerami Grant is a fantastic two-way player. Rakeem Christmas, Dejuan Coleman, and Michael Gbinije are all good as well. Syracuse’ defense remains one of the most formidable in the nation as Jim Boeheim’s gifted athletes execute his 2-3 zone to perfection. Early this year, their defense has shown no signs of regression from last winter, when it was arguably the stiffest in the country.
Villanova came into the season underrated and unranked (although here at College Sports Town we did have them ranked in our preseason top 20), perhaps partially due to their unimpressive performance against UNC in the NCAA Tournament last March. But they’ve been so good early on this year that they’ve become impossible to ignore, vaulting into the eighth spot in the polls thanks to thrilling wins over Kansas and Iowa in the Battle 4 Atlantis and blowout victories against everybody else they’ve played (except for Delaware–the offensively potent Blue Hens caught Nova on an off-night and nearly pulled an upset). This Villanova team hearkens to the glory days of the Big East, with a (surprisingly) punishing frontcourt attack led by forwards JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu. Of course, Jay Wright is still at the helm of Nova, so this team does still possess a stable of filthy guards. Darrun Hilliard is one of those guards–he’s a big, dynamic 2 with a buttery long-range J and a penchant for doing a little bit of everything, grabbing big boards, playing outstanding defense, and dishing out dimes. Meanwhile freshmen Josh Hart, another big guard, can really shoot the lights out, as can Dylan Ennis, the brother of Tyler. And James Bell, a terrific senior wing, has a diverse offensive game and rebounds at a clip of nearly seven boards per game. Finally, let’s not forget about sophomore Ryan Arcidiacono. Arcidiacono, who knocked in the game-winning trey against KU, is a tough, clutch guard and the heart of this Villanova team. (Arcidiacono also hit this shot in Villanova’s OT win over Cuse last year.)
Jay Wright and Jim Boeheim are a pair of the best coaches in the nation, and they’ll bring two of the toughest teams around into the marquee matchup. Both teams are offensively gifted, play rugged defense, and have weapons inside the paint and along the perimeter. But after the game is finished, one of the teams will walk off the court with their first loss of the year.
The stage is set for an epic battle between a pair of titans at the Carrier Dome. On a late December day that will feature the yearly Louisville-Kentucky game and loads of NBA and college football bowl action, the meeting of two of the elite northeast college hoops programs in chilly Syracuse might just be the sports highlight of the day. Even if it won’t count towards any conference standings.