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After opening Atlantic Coast Conference play with a 63-60 victory over Florida State, snapping a 25-game winning streak the Seminoles held in the Donald Tucker Center, Syracuse will face No. 6 Villanova at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. It’ll mark the first top-10 opponent for the Orange this season, and their second-ranked matchup of the year — they lost to No. 19 Auburn during the Battle 4 Atlantis.
The Wildcats return four of their top five scorers from last season, and their sixth, forward Cole Swider, transferred to SU and now averages 13.1 points per game for the Orange. Their 2020-21 team went 16-5 during the regular season and was upset by Georgetown in the first round of the Big East Conference tournament but recovered to advance to the Sweet 16 before falling to Baylor, the eventual national champion.
Here’s everything you need to know about Villanova (6-2) before Syracuse (5-3, 1-0 ACC) plays its second of three consecutive games away from the Carrier Dome — part of a span where six of seven games have been played on the road or at a neutral site, with the victory over Indiana serving as the lone home game.
Syracuse leads 39-33.
Last time they played
SU played Villanova in each of its first two seasons after leaving the Big East for the ACC, but the pair of teams haven’t met since Dec. 20, 2014, when the unranked Orange took the undefeated, No. 7 Wildcats to overtime but ultimately lost 82-77. Michael Gbinije’s 18 point total was his career-best at the time, Kaleb Joseph posted the first double-double of his Syracuse career and the Orange built a 12-point halftime lead behind a 63% shooting percentage across the first 20 minutes.
JayVaughn Pinkston led the Wildcats with 25 points while Darrun Hilliard added 23, and Josh Hart — an eventual John R. Wooden Award finalist — scored 21 points off the bench, including nine via free throws. Syracuse recovered to rip off seven consecutive wins but stumbled to a .500 record in ACC play and finished 18-13 overall in the year of the program’s self-imposed postseason ban.
Villanova has a 78% chance to win, with a projected score of 77-69.
The Villanova Report
Four of the Wildcats’ five starters average double-digit points-per-game this year, led by Collin Gillespie and his 17.8. His individual offensive rating ranks 62nd in the country, per KenPom, and Villanova has the fourth-best offense in terms of adjusted efficiency. It has only topped 80 points three times — including its most recent win against St. Joseph’s — but the team has shot 46.6% from the field and 42.2% from 3 this year — which sits as the seventh-best percentage from beyond the arc in the country, according to KenPom.
Villanova’s offense also doesn’t turn the ball over much, as their 5.5 steal percentage and 5.7 block percentage both rank top 30 in the country, and its guard production has boosted the offense so far. The Wildcats’ best win of the season came against No. 13 Tennessee, which they beat by 18, and they haven’t had any bad losses yet either.
How Syracuse beats the Wildcats
Unlike its offense, Villanova’s defense isn’t exceptional — ranking 157th in 3-point defense and 151st in 2-point defense, per KenPom, but still sits No. 45 in adjusted efficiency — so Syracuse needs to replicate the first half it had against Indiana and make it last for 40 minutes. Maximizing the amount of time that Jesse Edwards plays will help with that offense, especially if the shots beyond the arc don’t string together, but he’s fouled out in four of his past six games.
Additionally, the Orange proved against Florida State that they could win difficult conference games without being carried by Buddy Boeheim (6 points), but that’s not a sustainable formula — especially against a team like Villanova. For SU to leave the Garden with a victory, Buddy will need his breakout game from beyond the 3-point arc to be complemented by the streaky shooting of Joe Girard III and Swider. The presence of an interior game is a bonus, but the 3-pointers need to start falling for Syracuse in games like this.
Stat to know: 145.6
Brandon Slater has only attempted half as many 3-point shots as Gillespie, but his offensive rating of 145.6 is the highest on the Wildcats and ranks ninth in the country, per KenPom. The pair are tied for the team lead in 3-point percentage at 46.9, and Slater has only missed eight shots inside the arc this season, too. The 6-foot-7 senior’s 75.0% conversion rate on 2-point shots ranks 21st in the country, and he’s averaging 30.25 minutes per game this year as opposed to 16.84 last year. And with that extra time, the increased role — and efficiency — in Villanova’s offense has followed.
Player to watch: Justin Moore, guard, No. 5
After Villanova defeated St. Joseph’s on Saturday, head coach Jay Wright called Moore their “best defender” and the player that Wright will always have guarding an opponent’s best player. Moore had just completed the task of guarding Taylor Funk, holding St. Joseph’s leading scorer (15.3 points per game) to zero points and an 0-for-6 shooting output.
Moore started 24 of Villanova’s 25 games last season after starting 17 of 31 games his freshman year, and he produced a well-rounded statline of 12.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. And this year, he’s served as a regular on the floor for the Wildcats too, ranking 248th nationally, per KenPom, in percentage of minutes played with 80.9 and only committing more than three fouls in a game once. He fouled out in Villanova’s overtime loss to UCLA.
Against Syracuse, based on Wright’s comments, that could lead to a matchup of Moore guarding Buddy, who finished the game against Florida State with six points — his fewest since Dec. 2020 against Northeastern. He hasn’t made more than three 3-pointers in a game this season, as defenses have limited open looks, or even contested ones, from outside the arc. Moore will likely slot in Villanova’s defense against either him or Girard and if he covers the latter, that could limit Girard’s ability to kickstart the Orange’s offense off the dribble, just as he’s struggled to do in games this season.
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