NCAA Betting Preview: Syracuse Orange at Villanova

By: Willie Bee | Sunday, February 20, 2011

Down the stretch they come, and a big question now is will any team step up the Big East and serve notice that it is the squad to beat in the conference tourney and NCAA's?  Pittsburgh still owns a somewhat comfortable two-game lead at the top of the pack, but after the Panthers' loss to St. John's on Saturday and Notre Dame was soundly defeated at West Virginia, even their positions as 1-2 in the conference seem vulnerable.

The Villanova Wildcats and Syracuse Orange will each try to take first steps towards a strong closing run on Monday when the rivals meet at The Pavilion.  ESPN will have the broadcast starting at 4 p.m. (PT).

Villanova (21-6 straight up, 12-12 against the spread) survived Saturday's game at DePaul, but just barely in a 77-75 overtime win.  Favored by a dozen, the Wildcats needed a three-pointer from Corey Fisher in the waning seconds of regulation to tie the contest and force extra play when Fisher would rise to the occasion again with seven of his team's 15 OT points.

It was all part of a huge game for the senior who tallied a personal-best 34 points, hitting 11-of-18 field goals against just one turnover on the afternoon.  Mouphtaou Yarou contributed a double-double to the 'Nova attack, scoring 12 and pulling down 15 rebounds, eight of them on the offensive end of the floor that helped the Wildcats survive a 26-for-65 shooting day as a team.

The win capped a 2-0 week for Villanova, both victories on the road in less than impressive fashion over Seton Hall and DePaul by a combined five points.  The loss at the betting window left the Wildcats 1-7 versus the NCAA odds in their last eight games, going 4-4 straight up in that span.

Equally unimpressive for bettors recently, Syracuse (22-6 SU, 10-16 ATS) also struggled to get past a lesser opponent in overtime on Saturday, slipping by Rutgers in the Carrier Dome, 84-80.  Oddsmakers listed the Orange as 12-point home favorites, and anyone who played 'Cuse in the minus-800 vicinity on the money line needed a lopsided day at the free-throw line to cash their tickets.

Syracuse scored 34 of its points from the charity stripe where the Orange held a 47-14 advantage in attempts over the Scarlett Knights.  Rick Jackson had seven of Syracuse's 11 blocks, adding 18 points and 12 rebounds.  C.J. Fair made a big contribution as well, coming off the bench to play 37 minutes with 17 points and eight boards.

The failure to cover the spread sent Orange backers into the red for the third time in four games, and seventh of the last 10.

Villanova went to the Carrier Dome on Jan. 22 as a 5½-point underdog and left with an 83-72 win over Syracuse.  The Orange scored the first bucket of the game, the only time they led, and the Wildcats consistently frustrated Syracuse's 2-3 zone to take an 11-point lead into the locker room.  'Nova shot well (25-for-50) from the field, pushing the ball on offense to help negate the Orange's defense, and was nearly flawless from the line converting 22 of its 24 attempts.

Fab Melo's status for Monday's game remains up in the air.  The big freshman has played just a few seconds over three minutes in Syracuse's last four games, and remains in Jim Boeheim's doghouse for the present.  He saw limited action in the home loss to Villanova earlier this season, scoring one bucket and grabbing a pair of boards in eight minutes.

Corey Stokes remains a question mark for Villanova as he battles through a turf toe injury.  The senior was leading the team in scoring (14.6 PPG) before missing the last three games.  Maalik Wayns has started in his place and seen his scoring average drop a smidge in his new role, 13.4 PPG on the season compared to 11.7 in the last three games.

Villanova remains at home for Saturday's matchup with the St. John's Red Storm, then takes to the road for its final two regular season contests at Notre Dame (Feb. 28) and Pitt (March 5).  Syracuse will be at Georgetown next Saturday then idle for a week before closing the regular season at home versus DePaul.

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