When Syracuse announced its decision to move to the ACC back in September 2012, there were a couple match-ups that the program hoped would carry over as non-conference games. The Orange set up home-and-home series with St. John’s and Villanova, and at some point (we hope) they’ll resume on-court hostilities with Georgetown. On Saturday afternoon the Wildcats will invade the Carrier Dome, with the game being a matchup of teams ranked in the Top 10 and neither having lost a game.
Jay Wright’s Wildcats being undefeated is the bigger surprise of the two, with their run including a win over Kansas in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis last month. Five players are averaging at least nine points per game, with junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston leading the way at 16.5 ppg. But if there’s one player whose improvement mirrors that of the Wildcats to date it would have to be senior James Bell (15.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg), who’s raised his scoring by nearly seven points from a season ago and is also the team’s leading rebounder.
Villanova’s skilled offensively and tenacious defensively, and they’ll use that ball pressure to pester Syracuse freshman point guard Tyler Ennis. Ennis has proven to be a cool customer at the point for the Orange, displaying the proper balance between looking for his shot and making sure talented scorers such as C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant and Trevor Cooney get their looks as well. On the season Ennis is averaging 5.4 assists and 1.9 turnovers per game, with his assist-to-turnover ratio ranking third in the ACC.
So what will the keys be on Saturday afternoon? The most obvious key is how Villanova deals with Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. The Orange don’t have the length at the two guard spots that they normally enjoy, but Ennis and Cooney have done a good job of making up for that with activity. They’ll challenge the looks that Villanova gets, and a key for Ryan Arcidiacono and his teammates will be to avoid getting suckered into those “fool’s gold” attempts. The longer than normal look that falls in the first half cannot seduce Villanova into ignoring areas such as the high post when it comes to attacking the zone, because if that is the case they’ll be in trouble.
But given the history of the two programs there will be familiarity on both sides. For Syracuse, their work on the glass could have a major impact on the outcome. To this point in the season the Orange have rebounded 40.5% of their missed shots, with Villanova limiting teams to an offensive rebounding percentage of 29.2%. If Pinkston, Kris Jenkins and Daniel Ochefu can keep Syracuse off the offensive glass (five players are averaging at least 1.6 offensive rebounds per game) they can win. That’s a tough task for Villanova but it’s clearly one they can accomplish.
Two former Big East rivals and the matchup of the brothers Ennis (Tyler’s older brother Dylan is a key reserve for Villanova) means that this game won’t lack for story lines. But the biggest story line is that both teams enter without a loss, and the winner will have another statement victory to add to its resume.
After a successful career that included stops at Western Kentucky, UMass and Seton Hall, Derrick Gordon, Division I college basketball’s first openly gay player, will not pursue professional opportunities and will instead become a firefighter.
The 6-foot-3 Gordon averaged 8.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game as a senior for the Pirates, helping the team reach the NCAA tournament during his graduate transfer year. By making the NCAA tournament with Seton Hall this past season, Gordon became the first college basketball player to reach the event with three different teams.
A tenacious perimeter defender who could have earned a pro contract if he stuck with basketball, Gordon will instead pursue a career as a firefighter in San Francisco.
“I’ve had an amazing basketball career and want to thank everybody who has always been there supporting me every step on the way,” Gordon said via his Instagram. “But I’m making a change in my career…I will now be working towards becoming a San Francisco Firefighter!! I’m excited about this and looking forward to having a long career!!”
While Gordon likely would have never made the NBA on talent alone, his defensive prowess would have likely given him a shot overseas or in the D League. It’s hard to say why Gordon is making this decision, but given what we saw with all of the attention surrounding Michael Sam when he tried to play in the NFL, Gordon was probably going to face a lot of scrutiny wherever he decided to play.
Hopefully Gordon finds his calling as a firefighter and brings the same energy and leadership that he brought on the floor to helping other people outside of basketball.
Washington incoming freshman guard Markelle Fultz is going to be one of the premier players in the country next season as his unique game is going to be fascinating to watch.
The 6-foot-5 Fultz is currently playing with the USA U18 team in Chile for the FIBA U18 Americas as he’s second on the team in scoring and first in assists as the Americans play Canada for the title on Saturday.
Against the host country, Fultz had an electric spin move in the paint and finished with an easy dunk. If you’re not willing to stay up late to watch this dude play this year, then set your DVRs, because Fultz is going to have some fun moments during the season.
(H/t: Jonathan Wasserman, Bleacher Report)
The Las Vegas AAU events are all going on this week and it’s the final event for rising seniors.
At the Las Vegas Fab 48, forward Chris Seeley of the Splash City 17U team put down one of the best poster dunks of the summer as he skied over a defender for an emphatic finish.
The Class of 2016 forward attends Central High School in Fresno, California as he’s receiving plenty of buzz for his recent play.
LAS VEGAS, NV — Five-star Class of 2017 forward Jarred Vanderbilt has been one of the most sought-after recruits in the country since he was a freshman in high school.
The 6-foot-8 native of Houston is beginning to wind things down in the recruiting process as he cut his list to nine schools on Friday. Vanderbilt’s list includes some of the most storied programs in college basketball and plenty of schools from his home state of Texas.
“I just followed my heart. Went with the schools I liked the most and who I have the best relationships with. Thear were the schools I could see myself playing for,” Vanderbilt told NBCSports.com.
Regarded as the No. 13 overall prospect in the Rivals.com national rankings, Vanderbilt is currently recovering from a broken fifth metatarsal in his left foot.
Vanderbilt will see a doctor in three-to-four weeks as he’s currently in a boot to help his foot heal.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has previously expressed a desire to coach a game at the legendary Palestra in Philadelphia and it appears he’ll get his chance in a Big Ten game this season.
According to a report from Brendan F. Quinn of MLive, Penn State will use the Palestra as its home gym for the Jan. 7, 2017 Big Ten game against Michigan State. It is the only time the two teams are scheduled to play during Big Ten season and Penn’s home gym will offer a unique setting for the game.
Since the capacity of the Palestra is 8,722, it should make for a fun atmosphere for both programs since this will be a game both fan bases will likely want to attend.
With Nittany Lions head coach Pat Chambers making Philadelphia a major recruiting priority for his program, a game like this in Philadelphia makes sense while Michigan State has always been open to playing games in unique settings such as aircraft carriers.
The Palestra has been a college basketball mainstay since it was built in 1927 as it hosts all Penn home games and, in the past, hosted a lot of Big 5 Philadelphia college games between La Salle, Penn, Saint Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova.
Overall, a fun idea that should make for an interesting experience for both programs. It’s not often that a team will change its home venue for a conference game, but it could be the start of something we see other schools look to do.