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January 21, 2012

Preview: ND vs. Syracuse

Untitled Document

Game 20: No. 1 Syracuse (20-0, 7-0) @ Notre Dame (11-8, 3-3)
Date: Jan. 21, 2012
Time: 6:00 p.m. ET
Place: Purcell Pavilion; Notre Dame, Ind.

Conference: Big East
Nickname: Orange
Location: Syracuse, N.Y.
2010-11 record: 27-8 (12-6 Big East)
Famous alumni: Joseph R. Biden, vice-president of the United States; Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA; Al Davis, the late owner of the Oakland Raiders; Bob Costas, Marv Albert, Sean McDonough, Mike Tirico and Dick Stockton (among others), sportscasters; Matthew Berry, ESPN fantasy sports analyst.

Head coach: Jim Boeheim (36th year at Syracuse)  - 876-301 overall in 36th season at his alma mater. Boeheim and his squad claimed the 2002-03 national championship and finished runner-up on two other occasions. Syracuse under Boeheim has had four 30-victory seasons and is well on its way to No. 5.

You should know: That Notre Dame is 9-22 all-time versus No.1-ranked squads, including 6-3 at Purcell Pavilion. The last time Notre Dame knocked off a No.1-rated team was on Feb. 1, 1987 when the Irish defeated North Carolina, 60-58…Syracuse holds a 24-18 lead in the series, including victories in the last three clashes. The Irish are 11-8 all-time at home against Syracuse…The Orange are No. 1 in the country in steals per game (10.6) and turnover margin (+7.2), and tops in Big East play in scoring offense (78.6), field-goal percentage (.481), blocks (9.1 per game), assists (18.3 per game), and scoring margin (15.7). They're also among the top three in the conference in scoring defense (62.9 ppg.), field-goal percentage defense (.380) and three-point field-goal percentage defense (.281)…Syracuse's closest margin of victory in seven conference games is seven (a 73-66 victory at home against Marquette). The Orange also defeated Pittsburgh by eight (71-63) in Syracuse. The other five Big East opponents have fallen to the Orange by 26, 19, 14, 13 and 23 points…Syracuse shoots .486 as a team and has scored 80 or more points in 10 out of 20 games, and 75 or more points in 14 out of 20 games. The Orange ranks 16th nationally in scoring offense at 80.0 points per game.

Top losses from 2010-11: Rick Jackson (13.ppg., 10.3 rpg., 2.5 bpg.)
Top players: Jim Boeheim has 10 players who average double-digit minutes with the scoring, rebounding, assist and blocked shot stats spread across the board. Only one player comes close to averaging 30 minutes per game, and that's 6-foot-7 senior Kris Joseph (29.5 mpg.), who paces the Orange in scoring at a 13.7 clip while averaging 4.6 rebounds per game. He leads the team in three-pointers made with 31 and shoots .805 from the free-throw line (62-of-77).

Dion Waiters, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, plays a key role on both ends of the court for Syracuse. He's the second-leading scorer at 13.1 (despite playing just 22.4 minutes per game) and also paces the squad in steals with 46. Waiters shoots an impressive .524 from the field.

Brandon Triche, a 6-foot-4 junior, is the third Syracuse player to average double-figure scoring (10.0). He is second on the team to Joseph in three-pointers made with 29, and shoots .392 from beyond the arc. Triche also is the best free-throw shooter on the squad at .868 (33-of-38).

Scoop Jardine, a 6-foot-2 senior, and C.J. Fair, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, both average 8.6 points per game. Jardine is the team's leading assist man at 4.8 per game while shooting .527 from the field and .543 (19-of-35) from the free-throw line. Fair averages 5.2 rebounds per game and is second on the team in offensive rebounds with 40.

The Orange pulls away from teams by bringing productive players like Fair and 6-foot-8 junior James Southerland off the bench. Southerland averages an impressive 7.6 points and 3.2 rebounds per game in just 15.8 minutes of action. Still, he's third on the team in three-pointers made with 22 and shoots .504 from the field.

Taking his game up a couple of notches this season is 7-foot-0, 244-pound Fab Melo, who has more than doubled his playing time from last year (9.9 to 22.6) and is scoring at a 7.2 clip while snagging 5.7 rebounds per game. He has 60 blocked shots in 20 games and is shooting a remarkable .636 from the field in Big East play. He also leads the Orange in offensive rebounds with 52.

Boeheim has gone to 6-foot-9 freshman Rakeem Christmas to round out his starting unit with Joseph, Triche, Jardine and Melo. Christmas plays just 12.1 minutes per game, but shoots .563 from the field.

Michael Carter-Williams, a willowy 6-foot-5, 175 pounds, and 6-foot-10, 213-pound Baye Moussa-Keita, come off the bench to add a bit more length and athleticism. Despite averaging just 12.3 minutes per game, Moussa-Keita has 24 offensive rebounds and 22 blocked shots.

Pre-game analysis: This is one heckuva opponent to be facing when you're on a two-game losing streak and desperately need a victory to get back on track. Digger Phelps made a name for himself with his ability to get his teams up to play giant killer on Notre Dame's home hardwood, but this is an awfully tall task for an undermanned Irish squad.

As we saw a week ago, length and depth with length can be lethal to the Irish, who succumbed to Connecticut in the second half when Jim Calhoun's bench kept coming at Notre Dame in waves. Syracuse is much the same, even more so, with players like Dion Waiters, C.J. Fair and James Southerland - starters on most teams - coming off the bench.

The Irish, who have struggled offensively this season, will have difficulty against Boeheim's patented 2-3 zone, which is well-schooled enough to make just about every shot a contested one. Notre Dame's three-point shooting, usually a weapon for Mike Brey's Irish, has been inconsistent without Tim Abromaitis in the lineup and the departure of Ben Hansbrough. Scott Martin has not filled the gap created by their absence (.194 from three-point range), although he has averaged a double-double over the last four games. Guards Jerian Grant (31-of-83, .373) and Eric Atkins (27-of-61, .443) have done a nice job overall from beyond the arc. But the odds of shooting that well against Syracuse's length are not nearly as promising.

Jack Cooley has grown and excelled in the middle this season. But when he faces a wave of length like Syracuse will throw at him, he doesn't have a consistent complement on the front line to help share some of the burden. He'll be expected to play extended minutes against the Orange with nary a break from the incessant pressure from Syracuse's front line.

Notre Dame needs Alex Dragicevich and Pat Connaughton to have success shooting the basketball, but neither has been a consistent threat. Both are shooting under 32 percent for the year beyond the arc.

That being said, look for Brey to offer a game plan that maximizes Notre Dame's opportunities for a home shocker. He'll likely slow the pace with his burn offense, and take the Orange out of its preferred tempo. Eventually, however, Syracuse's depth will be too much for the Irish.

Look for a raucous crowd - at least by Purcell Pavilion standards - to give it their best shot now that the students are back from Christmas break. The hunch here is that emotion and style of play will give the Irish a fighting chance for a good part of Saturday evening's game. But the Orange isn't going to absorb its first loss of the season against a team as undermanned as Notre Dame's.

The Irish put up a fight to justify the prime-time spot on ESPN. In fact, it's a single-digit game a good portion of the night. But they don't have enough to record their first victory over a No. 1-ranked team at Purcell Pavilion in nearly a quarter of a century.

Pointspread: Syracuse by 9
Prister's Prediction: Syracuse 73, Notre Dame 62
Prister's record: 13-6 straight up; 5-8 vs. points

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