No matter the year, the conference or the atmosphere, Syracuse vs. Villanova is always billed as a thriller in the making and this season is no different.
The No. 8 Wildcats (11-0) enter the game undefeated for the first time since the 1961-62 season and the Orange are arguably the best team in the nation, though ranked second in the Associated Press' weekly poll. But despite the rankings or the placement of the matchup, Villanova's Head Coach, Jay Wright, and his staff have plenty of reasons to embrace the rivalry between two schools just 245 miles apart.
"I think it's always been such a great game and a great rivalry," Wright told reporters Friday afternoon in a teleconference moderated by the Big East Conference.
"The geographic proximity makes it a great rivalry between the staff. They kick our butt in local recruiting. We know all the guys on the team because they're all from Philly. There's something unique about northeast basketball. No matter what conference you are in, we play it all year around."
Though the Orange (11-0) lost star guard Michael Carter-Williams, he's been replaced with freshman point-man Tyler Ennis, brother of 'Nova's Dylan Ennis, who's in the conversation as one of the best freshman in the 2013-2014 season. The younger Ennis is averaging 12.1 points, 2.8 steals and 5.4 assists in nearly 32 minutes played per contest.
Three other players, C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant and Trevor Cooney, score in double figures for the Orange. Fair is leading 'Cuse in scoring with 17.8 points and 5.3 boards to go with nearly two steals per game.
The 6-foot-8 forward also did this one month ago:
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Grant, another electrifying wing player, adds 12.9 points per game and leads the Orange in rebounding with 5.7 rebounds per contest in 26.2 minutes played.
He also has a habit of doing this:
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Cooney is the last player scoring in double figures with 14.1 points per game and 2.3 steals, while shooting close to fifty percent from deep this season. But for one of Wright's smartest team's to date this season, he expects Syracuse's gritty defense to test his superb guard play, a Wildcat team that is 24th in the NCAA in points scored per game (82.5) and 17th in the nation in assists per contest (16.2).
"Syracuse will test your basketball IQ," Wright said during the teleconference. "They scout you well on how much you know about playing the game." And he previously discussed the differences between the success that his team's have had.
"Every year is a different journey," Wright said. "We are just trying to look at the next game. What can we do for the next game?"
Syracuse leads the all-time series against the Wildcats, 38-32, and Villanova splits the record with 'Cuse 14-14 when playing at the Carrier Dome. Wright holds an 11-7 record against Jim Boeheim and is one of the only coaches in the NCAA who have successfully figured out how to crack his stingy 2-3 zone.
When Wright first talked to reporters via the Big East teleconference today he was slightly out of breath. The team had just finished practice and the hours were ticking away to the big matchup, the biggest since the Bahamas. And though it all, Wright stayed composed. He explained the upcoming week as simply as he could.
"Big game tomorrow," Wright said. "And then we start our conference season, it's a big week coming up for us. I don't know the numbers, but [compared to other teams] but we didn't start 11-0."