Villanova Basketball: 5 Keys for Wildcats vs. Syracuse
Let's face it, Villanova is not the most likely team to hand Syracuse their first loss of the season. They really aren't even all that likely to provide much of a challenge.
But, sometimes it's easier to find things when you're not looking, and nobody is looking at the Wildcats to pull the upset.
Villanova has traditionally played well against Syracuse, but this is the greatest talent gap in Jay Wright's tenure, and it is by far his least experienced team. They have also lost against every good opponent they've played, and usually not in competitive fashion.
With that said, anything can happen in the Big East and there are ways Villanova can keep themselves in the game.
1. Value Offensive Possessions
Villanova is far from a great offensive basketball team. Prior to an 87-point outburst against DePaul, they averaged just 67.7 points per game over their previous 11 contests.
They shoot better than 50 percent on two-point field goals and shoot 76.3 percent from the foul line. Despite the high-point total against DePaul, they committed 28 turnovers. That can't happen tonight.
Syracuse is an aggressive and disruptive defense and 38 percent of their defensive possessions end in a blocked shot or a steal.
Villanova needs to be patient, efficient, smart and work for good shots. Throwing away possessions is not an option.
2. Focus on Defense
Defense has been a huge problem for Villanova against teams that can shoot the basketball. They've lost all six of their games against teams ranked in the top 50 in the RPI.
In those games, they have been outscored by an average of 11.2 points and surrendered 41 percent shooting from three-point range.
The Wildcats have had issues with team defense concepts. They struggle on screen-and-rolls, fail to help in man defense and are slow to rotate and close out on perimeter shooters.
Villanova needs to play defense like each possession is the only possession that matters.
3. The Three Is Not Your Friend
Villanova is launching an average of 21 three-point attempts per game, despite shooting exactly 30 percent from that range.
Syracuse is likely to show Villanova a heavy dose of its 2-3 zone, and it will be very tempting to shoot threes from the wings. That would be a huge mistake.
Villanova has no player shooting better than 34 percent from deep. If they shoot more than 10 threes, they will be playing right into the hands of the Orange.
If the 'Cats continue their "chucking" ways, they will likely be on the business end of a severe beating.
4. Feed Mouph!
Even if Villanova avoids shooting too much from the outside, they don't face a much easier time inside.
Syracuse big man Fab Melo is likely to deny most of what comes near the rim. That means Yarou can help the offense in two ways.
On the block, if Yarou attacks inside, there is a chance he could coax Melo into a few early fouls, opening up the lane for slightly more high-percentage shots.
More importantly, Yarou is a good shooter out to 15 feet. If he can flash into the high post, he may be able to find some shots in the hole of the defense.
If Yarou can approach a 20-point night, the 'Cats may have a chance.
5. Maalik Wayns
Despite Wayns' poor three-point shooting, he is a key to their ability to score. He is an ultra-quick penetrator and can get in the lane and get to the foul line when he chooses.
He is an 88.5 percent foul shooter, so a steady diet of free throws would be huge for Villanova.
Aside from his 17.4 points and 4.8 assists per game, Wayns will be playing against three opponents who share his Philadelphia roots in Scoop Jardine, Dion Waiters and Rakeem Christmas. This battle for "Philly Pride" can bring out the best and worst in him.
Last year, Wayns went off in the Carrier Dome for 21 points in an 83-72 Villanova win. At home, though, he managed just four points and three assists on 1-of-9 shooting.
Tonight, the 'Cats need Wayns at his best, proving the he was the toughest Philadelphia kid in the building.
It's highly improbable that this young Villanova team can win, but just competing with the top team in the country will go a log way in the development of this bunch.
Look for Syracuse to turn Villanova away, but there will be a moral victory for the Wildcats.