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Syracuse and Villanova Go Head-to-Head for the First Time since 2014

Members of the Villanova Wildcats celebrate after a win over Saint Joseph’s.
Villanova Athletics
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Members of the Villanova Wildcats celebrate after a win over Saint Joseph’s.

An old Big East rivalry makes its return when Syracuse and Villanova clash at Madison Square Garden this week. However, there is more to this matchup. WAER’s Ben Spector explains.

Syracuse has had its fair share of tough competition this season. The Orange have lost to VCU and a ranked Auburn squad. However, SU also took down an Indiana team that was undefeated at the time and ACC powerhouse Florida State. Tuesday’s matchup against sixth-ranked Villanova might be the toughest test for SU so far though. The Wildcats sit at 6-2, with both losses coming at the hands of top three opponents: top-ranked Purdue and third-ranked UCLA. Guard Joe Girard made sure to note that while Villanova is a talented opponent, it’ll just be another day in the office.

“We’re ready for it,” said Girard. “We’re just taking each game, each day at a time just preparing. We’re going to go back to the drawing board, back to practice and do the same thing we do every week.”

The Orange and the Wildcats have a tremendous history from SU’s Big East days. SU is 39-32 (0.549) all-time against Villanova, and the two teams met most recently in 2014 when Syracuse lost 82-77. In that matchup, the Orange committed 27 fouls and three Wildcats scored over twenty points.

Trevor Cooney (10) takes a shot against Villanova in 2013.
Cuse.com
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Trevor Cooney (10) takes a shot against Villanova in 2013.

While both teams have a rich history, the game will be taking place in a historic venue. Madison Square Garden, deemed the most famous arena, has hosted numerous college and NBA battles. More specifically, it hosts the Big East Tournament, and Syracuse and Villanova have had clashes in the bracket before. The Wildcats won that matchup in 2002 by a score of 78-64 in the Big East Tournament.

This matchup carries a lot of weight for Syracuse fans due to Villanova being an old Big East rival, but it is also a game that has been marked on forward Cole Swider’s calendar ever since he transferred from Villanova to Syracuse. The senior has strived in his time at SU, most recently putting up a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Florida State. However, it was a tough decision for the Villanova transfer. Swider notes that the extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19 played a factor in his decision.

Cole Swider takes a shot against Florida State in a 63-60 win this past weekend.
Syracuse Athletics
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Cole Swider takes a shot against Florida State in a 63-60 win this past weekend.

“I had a feeling [Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels] would use that extra year…it was all about finding an opportunity to do the things that I knew I could do,” said Swider on the Locked On Syracuse Podcast. “Coming back to a team with a bunch of veteran guys…there wasn’t a lot of opportunity that I felt was good for me.”

Gillespie and Samuels did end up using that extra year and staying with head coach Jay Wright and the Wildcats. Gillespie averages nearly 18 points per game, while Samuels averages 12 points and six rebounds per contest.

In his junior year at Villanova, Swider averaged nearly 20 minutes per game, but at SU that number has skyrocketed. In nearly 33 minutes per contest, the Rhode Island native averages over 13 points and seven rebounds per matchup in Orange. Swider looks to build on the opportunity against his former team tomorrow. Game starts at 9:30, and WAER’s coverage begins at 9 with Countdown to Tipoff.