Villanova-Syracuse Preview

The Associated Press

The demise of the old Big East didn't exactly sit well with Jim Boeheim. The Syracuse coach, who was a part of the basketball-centric league since its founding in 1979, will get to turn back the clock a bit with a tough matchup against a former conference rival.

Boeheim and the second-ranked Orange are set to face coach Jay Wright and No. 8 Villanova on Saturday in a marquee pairing of 11-0 teams.

The outspoken Boeheim pulled no punches in expressing his displeasure when the original Big East announced in late 2011 that it would revamp after the 2012-13 season.

"It has been a privilege to be in this conference," Boeheim said at the time. "Anyone who thinks I am not disappointed, that I am not sad that the Big East did not survive, they don't know me. I don't have any patience for those people.

"It made my life," he added. "It made my career."

Syracuse went 366-192 under Boeheim in Big East regular-season play, while Wright also had a nice run in the former version of the conference with a 114-92 mark from 2001-2013. With Boeheim now in the ACC, Wright is the league's longest-tenured coach.

The Orange begin their inaugural ACC schedule against Miami next Saturday, but first up is this matchup with Villanova and a game against Eastern Michigan on New Year's Eve.

Syracuse has also faced another former Big East rival this season, beating St. John's 68-63 on Dec. 15, and followed that victory with a 75-54 rout of High Point on Dec. 20.

Trevor Cooney hit five 3-pointers and scored 17 points, C.J. Fair added 15 points and the Orange forced 15 turnovers in the second half to pull away from the Panthers. Syracuse, which shot 53.7 percent (29 of 54), outscored High Point 38-20 after the break - including a 28-3 run.

"The first half, when you're not active, you don't force turnovers," Boeheim said. "We forced four turnovers in the first half, 15 in the second, and that got us out, got us some easy baskets. That was really the difference - starting to just really play defense."

Fair leads the Orange with 17.8 points per game, while Cooney is adding 14.1, Jerami Grant 12.9 and Tyler Ennis 12.1.

Syracuse has been limiting the opposition to 62.1 points and faces a steep challenge against Villanova, which is scoring 82.5 per game. Leading the way for the Wildcats are JayVaughn Pinkston (16.5 ppg), James Bell (15.4) and Darrun Hilliard (14.4).

Syracuse leads the all-time series with Villanova by a 38-32 margin after winning three of the last four. The Orange, though, have lost three of the last five matchups at home.

The Wildcats won the last meeting when both teams were ranked on Feb. 21, 2011, as No. 15 Villanova defeated No. 17 Syracuse 69-64 at home.

The Wildcats are enjoying their best start under Wright, who has eclipsed his 10-0 record to open the 2005-06 season. A win over the Orange will move them closer to matching their program-best 13-0 start in 1937-38.

Villanova knocked off ranked Kansas and Iowa teams to win the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament championship earlier this season, while Syracuse has won its only game against a ranked squad thus far with a 74-67 victory over then-No. 18 Baylor in the championship game of the Maui Invitational on Nov. 27

The Wildcats, who open league play at Butler on Tuesday, are coming off last Saturday's 88-67 win over Rider. Freshman Josh Hart scored 19 points and Pinkston added 14 as the team shot 50 percent (28 of 56) in its final non-conference home game of the season.

Villanova has continued its rise from a 13-19 record in 2011-12, including a 5-13 mark in the Big East, after going 20-14 last season and beating four ranked teams.

"If you look at 13-19 to No. 8 in the country, that's a big jump," Wright said. "But that was a crazy year. Are we the No. 8 team in the country? I don't know. But I like where we are a lot."

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