Syracuse-Villanova Preview

The Associated Press

Syracuse is three wins away from achieving the best start in school history, and there's little reason to believe it won't happen.

Still unbeaten following a scare from a ranked opponent, the No. 1 Orange kick off what appears to be the easiest stretch of their Big East schedule as they visit Villanova on Wednesday night.

None of Syracuse's next seven games are against teams in the Top 25, and an upset in any of the first three would be particularly surprising. This matchup with a Wildcats team which has the league's worst overall record precedes home games against Providence - which earned its first Big East win in five tries Tuesday night - and the only squad without a conference victory in Pittsburgh.

If they handle those three seemingly inferior opponents, the Orange (17-0, 4-0) will post the best start in the program's 102-year history. The 1999-2000 team holds the record at 19-0.

This Syracuse team may soon set another school mark - most consecutive weeks at No. 1. The Orange have been there for five straight, and only the 1989-90 squad's six-week run was longer.

An interesting factor in this hot start is Syracuse seemingly having no real stars. None of its players were named to the preseason all-Big East team and none rank among the conference's top 20 in scoring.

"We have four or five guys that are our go-to guys. I'd rather have four or five than one," coach Jim Boeheim said. "The only valid point with all that talk is that we don't have Carmelo Anthony. I'll agree with that. And nobody else does either."

Kris Joseph is averaging a team-leading 14.1 points after scoring 17 in a 73-68 win over then-No. 20 Marquette on Saturday. The Orange built a 23-point lead in the first half, but it was trimmed to four with less than five minutes remaining.

"I think that we need to work on (poise) a little bit," said guard Brandon Triche, who scored 16 points for the second straight game. "... We want to be better. You want to play 40 minutes of defense."

Sixth man Dion Waiters may be Syracuse's best defender, ranking among the Big East leaders with 37 steals. He had three steals Saturday, adding 12 points and a season-high seven assists.

Waiters is among the Division I leaders in bench scoring at 12.5 points per game.

"I just know when I get in the game, I've got to be instant impact off the bench," he said. "It's to the point for me where it don't matter if I start as long as I finish the game. That's the biggest thing, and helping my team get a win."

Villanova (8-8, 1-3) relies more heavily on one player - Maalik Wayns averages 17.4 points and 4.8 assists.

The junior scored 21 points in an 87-71 home win over DePaul on Sunday. He was 8 of 13 from the field after shooting 35.6 percent in the Wildcats' first three conference games - all losses.

"It is starting to come around for us," Wayns said. "We have young guys that are starting to find themselves and guys that are trying to do things that they have never done before."

Wayns played a key role in last season's series with the Orange. A month after scoring 21 points in a win at Syracuse, he was held to four and shot 1 of 9 in a 69-64 home loss to the Orange on Feb. 21.

"To play well against (Syracuse), you have to play with confidence," Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. "Syracuse plays with great confidence."