Villanova Basketball: Wildcats' Keys to Beating Syracuse

Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistDecember 25, 2013

Dec 7, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Villanova Wildcats head coach Jay Wright talks to his team during a time out during the second half at Hagan Arena.The Villanova Wildcats won 98-68.  Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday afternoon, two old rivals, both of whom sit at 11-0, will square off at the Carrier Dome in a battle of No. 2 versus No. 8 in the AP Poll. 

The surprise unbeaten of the duo, the Villanova Wildcats, have a chance to take down the Syracuse Orange before heading off into Big East.

For Jay Wright's Wildcats to pull off an upset in upstate New York, they will have to play a near-perfect game. 

Here is a look at three keys for the Wildcats to call their trip to Syracuse a success and leave victorious. 


Nullify the Backcourt Threat

Syracuse can make an argument that it has the best backcourt in the country with Trevor Cooney and Tyler Ennis having spectacular starts to the season. 

For Villanova to have a chance to pull off what will be deemed an upset, the Wildcats must take one or both players out of the game early. 

Cooney (left) and Ennis (right) have formed quite the backcourt duo for the Orange.
Cooney (left) and Ennis (right) have formed quite the backcourt duo for the Orange.Nate Shron/Getty Images

The players tasked with that job will be James Bell and Darrun Hilliard, who are the two best defenders in the Villanova starting five. 

Cooney, who averages 14.1 points per game, must be given no open looks from beyond the arc, because once he gets hot, he does not cool off.

Ennis is the better distributor with 5.4 assists per game, but he has not been tested in a major collegiate game during his freshman season as of yet.

If the Wildcats guards can put pressure on Ennis from the first whistle, it could disrupt the Orange's entire offensive rhythm.


Break the Syracuse Zone

One of the best offensive shutdown weapons in the nation comes from Syracuse and its pesky zone defense

For decades, head coach Jim Boeheim has utilized the zone to perfection, and it has caused the most explosive offenses trouble throughout the years; just ask last year's stellar Indiana team. 

Senior guard James Bell's length could help Nova break the Syracuse zone.
Senior guard James Bell's length could help Nova break the Syracuse zone.Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The good news for Villanova is that the Wildcats have seen so much of the zone in the past that they know how to attack it correctly. 

The Wildcats must not settle for shots from three-point range early in the shot clock, which is something they tend to do in pressure-packed situations.

If Villanova can break down the zone by finding plenty of open looks, and then succeed in transition, it could be celebrating a win on the Carrier Dome floor when the final buzzer sounds. 


Win the Battle of the Benches

One of the unexpected strengths of the Wildcats this season has been their bench production.

Rice transfer Dylan Ennis, the older brother of Tyler, and freshman Josh Hart have been the two best contributors off of the pine for Wright so far this season.

Hart has become the fourth-leading scorer on the team with 9.5 points per game, while Ennis has shot over 40 percent from the field in his seven appearances. 

Syracuse also features a star off the bench in Jerami Grant, who is the Orange's third-leading scorer with 12.9 points per game. Grant also happens to be the team's leading rebounder with 5.7 boards per contest. 

The one thing that the Orange possess that the Wildcats do not is depth in the paint as Baye Moussa Keita and Michael Gbinije provide extra size and relief for starters DaJuan Coleman and Rakeem Christmas. 

Villanova tends to go toward a smaller lineup when Hart and Ennis enter the game, which could either be its key to victory or its biggest downfall. 

Whichever team gets the most out of its bench on Saturday could easily come out on top given the contributions of the key bench players on both sides during nonconference play.


Follow me on Twitter, @JTansey90.