SYRACUSE - Greetings from the Carrier Dome where I am amazed at how many different ways a person can wear orange.
This place is teetering on the brink of on edge, I'd say. Downtown has been buzzing all day and now the buzz is building inside. Even the seats never before sold for basketball - the ones where you can't see - are starting to fill up.
Here are a few things worth watching tonight when the frenzy ends and the game begins:
Does the Orange crush continue? Already today the squeeze is on: Tennessee upset Kentucky and Oklahoma State stunned Kansas. Is it the upstate New York citrus' turn?
Can Villanova use its dribble penetration to break the Syracuse zone? In Scottie Reynolds, Corey Stokes and Maalik Wayns the Wildcats have the speed to get up the court as well as the strength to get inside. To win, they're going to have to really push the ball and work on dribbling and kicking to guys on the wings.
How will Wes Johnson play? The player of the year candidate has been slowed by a hand injury in recent weeks and his numbers reflect the injury. He hasn't topped the 20-point plateau since late January. But if Johnson is feeling healthier and stronger, watch out. He's an absolute matchup nightmare Villanova. The Cats don't have anyone with the size and strength to match his inside-outside game.
Will Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku dominate inside? The Syracuse big men bring more height and heft to the floor than anyone that Villanova has to offer and could give Antonio Pena a heap of trouble... especially foul trouble. But for Jackson and Onuaku to take over the game, the Orange backcourt is going to have to get the ball to them. Can they get past the Wildcats is the real question?
Finally how will Villanova handle the atmosphere? The Dome will set an on-campus attendance record tonight, breaking the mark set in the Gerry McNamara lovefest/goodbye in 2006. Can the Wildcats, who have been steady away from home all year, handle this atmosphere? It will be tough but remember this: in that McNamara game, Villanova was the opponent. And the Cats won.