Syracuse entered its date with Notre Dame last Saturday as a likely NCAA Tournament constituent based on a resume that included potentially valuable wins over Virginia, St. John's, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, and Cornell. In just seven days, the Orange have established themselves as not only a seeded participant in The Big Barbecue (given the opportunity to host a first-round game), but potentially the tournament's overall top seed -- consecutive wins against Notre Dame (in dominant fashion) preceded the Orange's definitive-yet-not-quite-as-definitive-as-it-could-have-been victory over Villanova in the Big East Tournament championship. With the win, Syracuse earns the league's automatic invitation to May's biggest event, but that's not the most important thing about the Orange's effort on the day. Rather, Syracuse is making an argument that it is a legitimate contender to take a victory lap on Memorial Monday.
The two teams entered intermission with Syracuse holding an 8-5 advantage, but Villanova was arguably playing worse than the margin indicated. The combination of Orange's play and the Wildcats' uneveness, it appeared as if a curbstomping was in store when Syracuse built an 11-5 on a JoJo Marasco tally with just 4:22 remaining in the third period. Villanova, however, would make a push: A Jack Rice goal ended the scoring in the third period and a three-goal run over the open stages of the fourth quarter would whittle that five-goal deficit to two at the 9:07 mark of the final stanza (due to a stone-cold Tim Mulrenan hammer). Syracuse, however, would respond under three minutes later, getting a goal from Dylan Donahue -- left alone in the left alley -- that Greg Stamatov (who relieved Reed Carlson midway through the third quarter) had no chance to stop. The tally snapped a 12:55 scoreless streak from the Orange and pushed Syracuse's cushion out to three; at that point, the Wildcats were functionally precluded from pulling the upset and extend their season into the second week of May (due to the loss to the Orange, Villanova is ineligible for the NCAA Tournament as its record is below .500).
Here's a truncated tempo-free box score:
|Offensive Efficiency (per 100 Offensive Opportunities)||40.63||25.00|
|Shots per Offensive Opportunity||1.16||0.97|
|Offensive Shooting Percentage||35.14%||25.71%|
|Team Save Percentage||50.00%||53.57%|
|Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities||25.00||46.88|
Bubble teams around the country -- Loyola, Duke, Penn State, Bucknell, Pennsylvania, Princeton, etc. -- should probably send Syracuse a nice Edible Arrangements basket: Villanova's inability to earn the Big East's automatic NCAA Tournament invitation keeps an extra at-large spot in the field in play.