Originally Published: December 27, 2013

Daily Word: Can Syracuse slow down Villanova?

By ESPN.com

Every weekday, Andy Katz leads a panel of our college hoops experts in a discussion of the biggest issues, trends and themes happening in and around college basketball.

1. Villanova is averaging 82.5 points per game. Any chance the Wildcats get in the 80s  or even the 70s  against Syracuse's defense Saturday?

Andy Katz: Why not? That doesn't mean Villanova will win. But Nova has the ability to make shots with James Bell and Ryan Arcidiacono. JayVaughn Pinkston can get in the middle of the zone and be effective, too. The one thing that won't or shouldn't happen is the Wildcats getting rattled. This is an experienced team.

Myron Medcalf: The 70s and even 80s are possible, although the latter unlikely, because Pinkston & Co. have so much variety within their offense. And that's critical against the zone. The one thing Villanova can't do is settle for jump shots and 3-pointers against the Orange, or it might be a very sloppy night for the Wildcats.

C.L. Brown: Villanova has averaged 78.5 points in its past five trips to the Carrier Dome, so yeah, I would count on an entertaining game with a lot of scoring. Unlike a team that is unfamiliar with Syracuse's zone, the Wildcats won't need any time to get acclimated to it. The only thing Nova has to adjust to is the fact that the game won't count in the Big East standings.

2. Which player will have the biggest impact on the final outcome of Saturday's showdown in the commonwealth between Louisville and Kentucky?

Katz: Julius Randle. The Cardinals can match and should top the Kentucky guards. James Young might not get the looks he needs to bury game-changing shots. But Louisville's Achilles' heel is its interior. Just look back at how it struggled with Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson of North Carolina in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic. Randle will be a major problem if Kentucky establishes him.

Medcalf: I think it's Montrezl Harrell. He'll be the most versatile player on the floor. His defensive and offensive contributions will be critical in Louisville's effort to slow Randle. If he's drawn into early foul trouble, Louisville will be in trouble.

Brown: Russ Smith scored 30 points in his Rupp Arena debut against Anthony Davis and Kentucky's 2012 championship team. Louisville fans have taken to calling it Russ Arena, after his NCAA tournament showing made his three-game average on that court a lofty 26.7 points and 52 percent from the field. The senior guard will be highly motivated to get the last laugh, knowing many mock drafts have Kentucky backcourt twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison rated higher.

3. Saint Mary's had a rough trip to Hawaii, losing all three games. What was the problem, and can the Gaels fix it in time for the WCC season?

Katz: The Gaels couldn't finish games. Saint Mary's lacks the go-to scorer, the player who will be the one to calm things down and is willing to take the big shot. Now the Gaels have to go without suspended coach Randy Bennett for the first four games of the WCC season, including a road game at Gonzaga, plus one nonconference matchup. If SMC is going to get back to the team that won at Boise State, it will need to defend better in late-game possessions. SMC's only shot at the NCAAs, outside of a WCC tournament title, is to knock off Gonzaga at least once and BYU. Anything short of that and it will be hard to make the case.

Medcalf: The problem is that Matthew Dellavedova isn't walking through those doors. And the Gaels are a struggling defensive unit (169th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). They're shooting 43 percent from the 3-point line, but that won't matter in the WCC unless they become more stubborn on defense.

Brown: The Gaels made a habit of not only turning the ball over at crucial times but allowing those turnovers to lead to baskets on the other end. In their three losses, opponents combined to outscore the Gaels 23-5 in the second half alone in points off turnovers. SMC needs to find a way to win a close game. That way, its shortcomings in Hawaii won't affect it in WCC play.


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