Villanova puts on shooting clinic in win vs. Syracuse

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Beating Syracuse’s 2-3 zone requires patience, practice and a team committed to passing and finding holes in the defense.

Or, you could just do what Villanova did on Saturday – hit shots.

The No. 7 Wildcats pulled off an impressive 83-72 win against the No. 7 Orange by starting hot, and by getting some sharpshooting from an unlikely source. ‘Nova – a team that makes 35 percent of its shots beyond the arc – hit 8 of its first 13 3-point attempts, including three from sophomore guard Maalik Wayns. Until then, he’d only made 12 of 60 3-pointers all season.  

They finished 11 of 24 from deep, 10 percentage points higher than they usually shoot. That’s a career day for just about anyone at the Carrier Dome, let alone against a ‘Cuse defense like this.

Still, here’s the thing: That Orange defense is still nasty. Pitt solved Syracuse’s zone with intricate offensive sets and a blazing 19-0 run and shot 48 percent overall. Villanova did it with unconscious shooting from outside. Neither are options for about 98 percent of D-I teams.

Considering teams normally make just 28 percent of their twos and 43.8 percent of their threes vs. ‘Cuse, expecting to drill shot after shot isn’t an advisable strategy.

But Wayns and ‘Nova sure made it work Saturday.

(Quick aside about Syracuse: It fell short against two To 10 teams in the last week, but displayed impressive resiliency in both losses. Perhaps Jim Boeheim’s team doesn’t have the ceiling of last year’s 30-5 squad, but it’s not far off, either.)

It also raised the stakes for the Wildcats, who improved to 16-2 overall and 5-1 in the Big East. They remain one of the most talented and most difficult matchups in the league – you try chasing around that fleet of guards – but a streaky shooting team. Yet they’ve logged solid nights against Louisville (60.3 eFG%), Cincy (52.4 eFG%) and South Florida (67.7 eFG%) since Jan. 6.

That’s a bad sign for the rest of the league. ‘Nova’s always been a team that’s relied on dribble-penetration with its guards, which lets it survive the poor-shooting days. When it also hits from outside, it’s near impossible to stop on offense.

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.