Syracuse had an easy time at the Wells Fargo Center tonight because the Orange treated the game seriously from the opening tap, Maybe it's the inspiration of staying No 1 or staying unbeaten, or having an eye on the top seed in the Big East tournament. Or maybe this team is on a bit of a mission to win it all.
Villanova plays like an inexperienced team inside, but all of these guys -- Pinkston, Kennedy, Yarou -- work hard,
But this Wildcats team is built around its guards, and Malik Wayns, by most any estimation the team's best player, had a nightmare game -- 0 for 7 from the floor, 3 points. His three assists all came very late well after the outcome was in doubt, if it ever was, This can't happen if Villanova is going to press the nation's top team -- or any good team, for that matter.
Not that he had a lot of help -- Dominic Cheek was 4 for 13, Yarou 2 for 10.
Villanova shot 20 for 61 from the field, which is exactly ugly%.
Final score, 79-66
Wildcats Passive in Halfcourt
Villanova is having all kinds of trouble finding high percentage shots in its halfcourt offense. Jumpers are contested, and penetrating against this Orange size is daunting,
On defense, Syracuse only shoots open jumpers and gets the ball inside mostly when it wants. However, Villanova is working extremely hard to deny easy baskets. Doesn't always work, but this game can only be a learning experience now.
And now another steal, another open court uncontested windmill -- this time more vicious (catch ESPN for it, to be sure) -- by Dion Waiters,
Too Much Defense
Syracuse stopped Villanova's brief second half run with defense, both in the paint and on the perimeter,
At 54-41, Villanova's James Bell lifted up for a three from the left wing, but it was blocked by Syracuse's CJ Fair.
At 56-41, Villanova moved the ball around to the baseline, but an entry pass went into Syracuse hands and led to a vicious windmill opencourt dunk by Dion Waiters.
Perfect Role Player
Syracuse guard Brandon Triche, very much like his uncle Howard (who started on the Orange's 1987 team that lost to Indiana in the national title game), is the perfect role player for a Syracuse team loaded with talent around him, He shoots well, gets in the lane, gets loose balls, grabs an offensive board here and there.
Working on Things
Villanova won't win this game, but it would be good for the Wildcats if they could find a way to get Ty Johnson and Malik Wayns better shots. No doubt they're trying but it isn't working at all right now.
Johnson plays like a confident scorer, but against Syracuse he's nit getting shots. He's still 2 for 2 from the field, 13:57 2nd half 50-34.
Wayns is 0 for 5 with three free throws and no assists. Nuff said.
Startling First Half Stats
Syracuse 14-3 in second chance points
Syracuse 18-10 in the paint
Syracuse 24-17 on the glass (8-5 on offensive glass)
Waiters 5 for 7 (2 for 3 from three)
Villanova 5 assists, 8 turnovers; Syracuse 9 assists, 5 turnovers
Syracuse 4-0 blocked shots
No Contest So Far
A few things we knew beforehand that have proved true through 20 minutes tonight:
Dion Waiters is an offensive force -- he leads all scorers with 14 -- and he can get to the basket against this Villanova defense anytime he wants,
Villanova can't shoot. First half numbers are ugly: 8 for 28,
Scoop Jardine hits 30-footer at the buzzer, Syracuse called a timeout with 1,4 seconds left and got the bucket, Nova had cut a 16-point lead to 36-24 and forced a missed outside shot, but Orange got the rebound and scored, then went on a run to intermission,
Wildcats got back in the game, sort of, by keeping their game plan of working the ball inside, They finally got a few buckets and some foul shots, But then Syracuse found another gear,
No word on whether that was their high gear -- but it was pretty good.
43-24 at the half.
Not Such Good News
Since Fab Melo left the game with just under eight minutes, Villanova has done nothing to take advantage, In fact, the Wilccats have falled behind by 16 and have shown no offense.
Malik Wayns and Dominic Cheek are a combined 0 for 8 for zero points -- brutal. Ty Johnson is 2 for 2 from the field -- why isn't he shooting more?
Nova still trying to get the ball inside, isn't working yet. Game could get out of hand soon, if it hasn't already,
First Good News for Nova
Fab Melo, the Orange's 7-foot sophomore center, picks up his 3rd foul with 7:50 left in the half. Clearly the Wildcats need to get inside while he sits. Syracuse has more beef inside and they reload from the bench, but they're one man down and Villanova has to find a way to exploit that.
James Bell came in looking for instant offense. He missed his only shot.
Need More Wayns
Eleven minutes into the game, Syracuse 19-14. Here is Malik Wayns' line: 11:06 played, 0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 2 field goal attempts.
OK, it's hard to get to the hoop on Syracuse's front line, but if Wayns disappears and they get no dynamic offense from their guards, Nova has no shot.
And here come chants of "Let's Go Orange!" Pretty loud too. Not good,
Fans Not Confident?
The Inquirer's unscientific poll overnight found fans did not think Villanova would pull off the upset over Syracuse by a 3 to 1 margin. Of course, there's not a lot of reason for fans to believe it would happen, especially since the Orange are unbeaten and Villanova is .500. But in a Big East city, 3 to 1 is still pretty harsh.
Orange Getting Some Love
Syracuse is drawing some nice positive reaction to their play, so in retrospect, appears that Scoop Jardine wasn't getting booed -- it was Scoooooop. At least, that's my new guess. By no means an even crowd -- it's decidedly pro-Nova -- but it's been more big cheers and little cheers.
Hard to get inside on Syracuse, but no doubt Villanova needs Malik Wayns to do just that. Orange have opened up shooting well, like they need the help. It's bound to open up the middle as the game goes on.
Villanova trying to run offense through Yarou in low post, but it's tough for Mouph once he gets the ball on the right block to find an open shooter. Again, hard to cut inside against Syracuse's inside game.
And this just in: Ty Johnson can shoot.
Gettng a Chance
Villanova freshman Markus Kennedy, of Philadelphia, starts tonight for the third straight game at forward. He averaged 33 minutes in the Wildcats' last two games after pulling down 12 rebounds against Marquette on New Year's Day in his last game off the bench.
Rakeem Christmas out of the game quickly, played just about 4 minutes and didn't do much.
Freshman Rakeem Christmas of Philadelphia gets the start for the Orange at center. And Scoop Jardine, another Philadelphian, gets pretty much all boos from the Nova faithful, starting at guard. Christmas has started every game this year.
House isn't packed but the crowd is good. Big East atmosphere.
Syracuse doesn't look like a complacent team. Very close knit off the court, they pay attention. All business.
Are the Wildcats ready for the nation's No. 1 team? Until they handled DePaul easily on Sunday, easy answer was no. But you never know when a team will find something and go on a run. And say what you will about this Villanova team, which has indeed struggled and figures to have problems this year in the Big East: It has talent.
If the history of the Big East teaches us nothing else, it's that it's difficult to win on the road. While the Wells Fargo Center, where tonight's game takes place, isn't on the Main Line campus, this place is electric on game day. No different tonight.
-- Gary Potosky