For a program famous for its most legendary figures wearing a jersey number in the 40s, it’s been quite confounding as to how few times this season the Syracuse Orange has played a solid 40 minutes of basketball.
In most of those games, they’ve been able to escape.
Sometimes it’s because the quality of the opponent is less than stellar (looking in your direction, Providence).
Other times, it’s been because the Orange has put together a solid 25 to 30 minutes of basketball in which it looks unbeatable (Georgetown at the Carrier Dome). That’s the Syracuse team that people have as a No. 1 seed, and that’s the Syracuse team that’s more than capable of winning a national championship this year.
However, Louisville took great advantage when Syracuse decided to slouch. Georgetown almost did, and let’s not even mention lowly DePaul.
No matter how good or bad those above teams are, there’s been one thing that has been crystal clear for the past few months now: When the Villanova Wildcats visit Syracuse on Saturday, it will be the best and most dangerous team the Orange has faced all year.
Have you heard of this game yet?
It’s only one of College GameDay's biggest games of the year. Two player of the year candidates will undoubtedly be on ESPN’s star watch (Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds and Syracuse’s Wesley Johnson). The Big East title will most certainly be on the line, and over 34,000 raucous Syracusians will be screaming their faces off in the sold-out, loud house.
The anticipation in Central New York has been wild for the past month, and the electricity in the air has been growing exponentially with every passing day.
This is deservedly the most anticipated game for Syracuse in quite some time—not even in regards to just this season, but even the past couple of years. Along with everything else on the line, this will be the first game in a very long time where the Orange may indeed be playing for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
The scary thought? Their opponent is also playing for that very same accolade, and that opponent is more than capable of winning this game.
The scarier thought? If Syracuse decides to go on one of those five to seven-minute stretches where quality basketball becomes an afterthought (and those who bleed Orange pull their hair out), Villanova is more than capable of blowing them out big time.
The solution to this problem seems easy enough: Pound the ball inside early and often, open up the outside shooting game, and play a suffocating 2-3 zone like they're capable of for a full 40 minutes.
When Syracuse has done those things this year, it has done so with force and has usually been able to grab double-digit leads.
With the good comes the awful, though. It’s usually around the time it grabs the big lead that Syracuse becomes lethargic. They begin settling for contested jumpers, and defense can become an afterthought. There are only so many teams you can do that against and still expect to come away with a victory.
Villanova is not one of those teams.
The Wildcats are way too loaded offensively, especially at the guard position. If Syracuse decides to slouch even on one possession, there’s not much doubt Villanova will cash in, and fast.
In a game that could come down to one possession, that could be critical.
Even if the Orange does jump out to a big lead and then gets lackadaisical, it’s hard to fathom that Villanova won’t go on a big run. However, since Villanova is arguably the best offensive team the ‘Cuse has played this year, it’s also completely plausible to think that the Orange won’t escape.
Close game, big lead—either of those scenarios is possible.
To get this victory, it’s absolutely critical Syracuse plays a solid 40 minutes of basketball, and plays so in the dominant fashion it has shown capable of so many times this year.
It’s also important because it’s a gut check. Coming off the game against Providence, The Orange once again showed that five to seven-minute stretch where it became apathetic. The 'Cuse still won big but were down on the scoreboard for a good period of time. That’s not what great teams do, and it’s certainly not what a Final Four-bound team does.
This is the chance to prove that they can play a solid 40 minutes against a high quality opponent. This is the chance to prove to everyone that, yes, this Syracuse team is the real-dominant-deal and is much deserving of its first outright Big East title since 1991 (not counting shared titles, because nobody likes those).
This is the chance to show the Syracuse fans that this team is a team of destiny. This is the chance to show that this truly is our year.
At around 9:00 pm on Saturday night, in cold Syracuse, 34,616 strong will be hoping that team shows up.
The only question left is, where will you be?