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Villanova Faces Their Toughest Test Yet At Syracuse Orange

A pair of teams coming off their first Big East Conference losses of the season meet at the Carrier Dome today, as the seventh-ranked Villanova Wildcats tangle with the third-ranked Syracuse Orange.

Villanova recently had an 11-game win streak come to an end as it dropped a 61-59 decision at No. 8 Connecticut this past Monday. The only other loss for the 16-2 Wildcats was against Tennessee in the finals of the NIT Season Tip- Off on November 26th in New York City. Villanova is 4-1 in true road games this season.

A 74-66 loss at No. 5 Pittsburgh on Monday was not only the first in conference for Syracuse, but the first of any kind this season. The Orange had been 18-0 heading into that clash, but a horrific start fueled by poor shooting proved too much to overcome. Syracuse is 13-0 at home this season.

Syracuse owns a 35-30 advantage in the all-time series with Villanova, and the Orange snapped a three-game losing streak to the Wildcats with a 95-77 home win last season.

Villanova utilizes a three-guard set as part of its starting lineup, and all three backcourt players are averaging double figures in scoring. Corey Fisher leads the way with his 16.1 ppg, while Corey Stokes turns in 15.8 ppg and Maalik Wayns chips in 13.5 ppg. Up front, the Wildcats also rely on contributions from Mouphtaou Yarou and Antonio Pena, and they are responsible for 7.8 and 7.1 rpg, respectively. You don't get to 16-2 without sporting considerable margins in virtually every aspect of the game, and Villanova comes in at +14.7 in scoring and +7.4 in rebounding. Fisher was high man for coach Jay Wright's club on Monday at UConn, netting 28 points and handing out six assists, but the 'Cats shot just 36.7 percent from the field overall and only 21.4 percent from three-point range. The Huskies didn't fare much better (.357, .313), but a 16-12 edge in points from the foul line coupled with a 14-4 edge in fast-break points earned the home team the victory.

Trailing 19-0 early on, Syracuse had seen enough and responded by going on a 17-0 run of its own. Unfortunately for coach Jim Boeheim's squad, a 39.1 percent shooting effort for the game combined with a 44-30 rebounding deficit was too tough an obstacle as the Orange suffered their first loss of the season. C.J. Fair led SU with 16 points, Scoop Jardine added a dozen and Brandon Triche chipped in with 11. The Orange were guilty of just seven turnovers and they actually won the scoring battle in points off turnovers (20-6), second-chance points (11-5) and bench points (25-11). Kris Joseph (14.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg) is the team's leading scorer, but he missed the Pitt game with a head injury. His status for this clash is questionable. Jardine is averaging 13.6 ppg, and he has dished out 113 assists to this point, while Rick Jackson (13.1 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 2.3 bpg) does just about everything well for the Orange. Triche (10.1 ppg) is the final double-digit for Syracuse, which is averaging 75.0 ppg on the strength of its .481 field goal percentage, 35.2 percent three-point shooting and favorable margins in both rebounding (+4.5) and turnovers (+2.6).

Barring some bizarre scenario where one or both of these teams suffers a complete collapse, they will each be participating in this year's NCAA Tournament with a chance to make some serious noise. Expect this game to feature plenty of drama, numerous lead changes and some outstanding team play. When the dust settles, the Orange will prevail in front of the hometown faithful and take a leg up in the race for the Big East title.

GAME NOTES: A pair of teams coming off their first Big East Conference losses of the season meet at the Carrier Dome today, as the seventh-ranked Villanova Wildcats tangle with the third-ranked Syracuse Orange.

FACTS & STATS: Site: Carrier Dome (33,000) -- Syracuse, New York. Television: ESPN. Home Record: Villanova 11-0, Syracuse 13-0. Away Record: Villanova 4-1, Syracuse 2-1. Neutral Record: Villanova 1-1, Syracuse 3-0. Conference Record: Villanova 4-1, Syracuse 5-1. Series Record: Syracuse leads, 35-30.