Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Former Big East Conference rivals get together on Saturday afternoon, as the Syracuse Orange attempt to hand the seventh-ranked Villanova Wildcats their first loss of the season.
Syracuse usually runs roughshod through the non-conference portion of its schedule, but Jim Boeheim's squad has already lost three times. The Orange were able to put the brakes on a two-game slide last Sunday by slipping past Louisiana Tech at home, 71-69. SU's losses this season have come against California, Michigan and St. John's, while its only wins of note have been against the Bulldogs and Iowa.
Villanova on the other hand, has been perfect to this point, winning all 10 of its games, including against ranked foes VCU and Michigan, as well a signature triumph over another Big Ten Conference foe in Illinois. The Wildcats were also last in action last Sunday, as they disposed of Big 5 rival Temple at home, 85-62.
Syracuse leads the all-time series, 38-33, with the last meeting on Dec. of 2013 resulting in a 78-62 triumph for the Orange.
Trevor Cooney drained four 3-pointers en route to a game-high 25 points, as he led Syracuse to a narrow victory over Louisiana Tech last weekend. Tyler Roberson came off the bench to contribute 14 points and a massive 17 rebounds, while Rakeem Christmas tallied 13 points for the Orange, who shot just 41.9 percent from the floor, but held the Bulldogs to 29.4 percent efficiency from long range. Both teams were rather careless with the basketball, turning it over 17 times each.
Christmas (16.4 ppg, 8.9 rpg), Chris McCullough (13.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and Cooney (11.6 ppg) are all averaging double figures, helping Syracuse put up 68.2 ppg despite the team shooting a horrific 22.9 percent from 3-point range. Fortunately, the team's defensive effort has been top-notch, as opponents are netting only 57.3 ppg in hitting just 36.2 percent of their total shots, which includes a 30.7 percent effort from downtown. SU is also on the plus-side of the ledger with regard to both rebounds and turnovers.
Darrun Hilliard and Josh Hart each scored 20 points to help push Villanova past Temple last Sunday. JayVaughn Pinkston added a dozen points and Daniel Ochefu 10 more for the Wildcats, who made good on 52.9 percent of their field goal attempts, draining 9-of-15 3-point tries along the way. VU's defensive effort was up to snuff as well, as the Owls were held to just 34.6 percent field goal efficiency, as they missed the mark on 11 of their 15 long-range launches.
Villanova has really turned it up from beyond the arc in the last few weeks. After shooting just 28.9 percent from distance through their first five games, the Wildcats have shot 43.8 percent in their last five. Balance is the key to VU's offensive output, as seven players average between 7.4 and 12.3 ppg, with Dylan Ennis sitting at the high-water mark. With a team that is undefeated after 10 games, it's not a shock to see it own favorable margins in just about every area, including scoring (+19.4), rebounding (+3.7) and turnovers (+5.0).