Villanova coach Jay Wright used to refer to the annual "old" Big East rivalry with Syracuse as "like a love-hate," especially those trips to the cavernous and loud Carrier Dome.
"We love it but the games are so tough," Wright said. "It's a really hard place to play up there, but we love going up there. You love the experience, even when you lose. Everybody up there is so nice to you, they really are."
The eighth-ranked Wildcats (11-0) will receive that same Upstate New York hospitality, and the typically tough opponent, on Saturday when they meet fellow unbeaten and No. 2 Syracuse (11-0) at the Dome before a national television audience.
The Wildcats and the Orange played each other 63 times in Big East play after Villanova joined the league in 1980, and split a pair of games last season before going their separate ways - 'Nova in the "new" Big East and Syracuse to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
But Wright and his Orange counterpart, Jim Boeheim, made sure the rivalry continued for the next two years, including next season at the Wells Fargo Center.
"I think it's important for us, important for Villanova," Wright said, "because I think one of the great things about the new Big East is that we maintain the northeastern connections in basketball, the game of basketball, the history of basketball.
"Playing Syracuse keeps that strong connection to the Big East, and Connecticut and even B.C. [Boston College]. Now that all that Big East stuff is over and all the politics is over, going back to the history of northeastern basketball, those three schools are probably important for us to maintain a relationship with."
There has been nothing announced formally about Villanova playing its old Big East rivals in coming seasons.
Wright said that Syracuse always was "right up there" among Villanova's biggest rivals when he was an assistant to Rollie Massimino, although Georgetown was ahead of the Orange at the time. But he added that Syracuse may have reached the top in recent years because of the crowds that would come to see the Cats and Orange play.
Three of the top four crowds in Carrier Dome history came with Villanova on the court, including a then-record NCAA crowd of 34,616 to see a 2010 contest that capped ESPN's "College GameDay."
And the Wildcats and the Orange have seen a lot of each other. In the last eight seasons, they've played each other twice in six of those years, plus a third time in 2007-08 when the two teams met in the Big East tournament.
"Jim and I actually would joke about it," Wright said. "One time we were sitting in the bus after USA Basketball practice with the world championship team and he must have heard about the new schedule. He goes, 'Why the hell do we always have to play each other twice? We're playing each other twice again.'
"Then he said, 'Why don't you call somebody at the [Big East] office and tell them you don't want to do this?' And I said, 'You're the Hall of Famer. You call somebody. I don't want to play you, either.' "
Saturday's game could be a classic. The Orange already have beaten then-No. 18 Baylor along with Indiana and St. John's (at Madison Square Garden). They have shot better than 47 percent from the field and have a turnover margin of plus-6.8. C.J. Fair is their top scorer with a 17.8-point average.
Villanova, which has wins over a pair of nationally ranked teams, Kansas and Iowa, has been successful with a nine-man rotation, including a bench that has averaged nearly 28 points since sophomore guard Dylan Ennis returned from a broken bone in his hand.
Ennis will go up against his younger brother, Syracuse's Tyler Ennis, one of the best freshmen in the nation.
Cats in the Dome
Syracuse has won more than 84 percent of its games in the Carrier Dome since the facility opened in 1980, but Villanova has more than held its own. The Wildcats are 13-15 in the building, 4-4 since Jay Wright took over as head coach in 2001.
Date Winner Score
Feb. 23, 2004 Syracuse 64-59
March 5, 2006 Villanova 92-82
Jan. 13, 2007 Syracuse 75-64
Jan. 19, 2008 Villanova 81-71
Feb. 22, 2009 Villanova 89-86
Feb. 27, 2010 Syracuse 95-77
Jan. 22, 2011 Villanova 83-72*
Jan. 12, 2013 Syracuse 72-61
*Last meeting when both teams were ranked in the Top 10 (Villanova 7th, Syracuse 3d)
- Joe JulianoEndText