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February 4, 2013

Preview: Notre Dame @ Syracuse

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Head coach: Jim Boeheim (37th year at Syracuse)  - 903-307 overall in 37th 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 five 30-victory seasons. He has won five Big East tournaments, nine regular-season championships, and has posted 46 NCAA tournament victories.

You should know: That with his 908 victories, Jim Boeheim ranks second on the all-time NCAA Division I men's basketball win list behind Mike Krzyzewski's 946. Boeheim moved past Bob Knight (90-3) earlier this season…With the loss of Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters, Scoop Jardine and Fab Melo from last year's team, and the loss of James Southerland (academics) and DaJuan Coleman (knee surgery) this year, the Orange are not the same team that won 34 games last year. Yet Syracuse still ranks 24th nationally in scoring offense at 77.1 points per game…Syracuse has a 35-game winning streak in the Carrier Dome. The Irish are 3-9 all-time in the Carrier Dome, which opened in the fall of 1980. Notre Dame won at Syracuse in 2004 and 2007. Notre Dame won that 2007 game, 103-91…The Orange enters tonight's game with a two-game losing streak. They fell at Villanova in overtime (75-71) on Jan. 26, and followed that up with a 65-55 loss at Pittsburgh Saturday. Syracuse won its first 10 games before losing to Temple in Madison Square Garden. The Orange had won another eight in a row before falling in back-to-back games…Syracuse holds a 24-19 lead in the series, although Notre Dame has won four of the last seven, including last season's 67-58 victory at Purcell Pavilion on Jan. 21. The Orange came into the game ranked No. 1 and sporting a 20-0 record.

Top losses: Kris Joseph (13.4 ppg., 4.7 rpg.), Dion Waiters (12.6 ppg.), Scoop Jardine (8.9 ppg., 4.9 apg.), Fab Melo (7.8 ppg., 5.8 rpg.).

Top players: Brandon Triche, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior, has taken over the responsibility of leading the Orange in scoring with a 14.9 average. He also averages 3.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. But he's shooting just .323 (31-of-96) from three-point range. He was 3-of-18 from the field in back-to-back games against Providence and Villanova, and 0-of-5 from three-point range with six turnovers at Pittsburgh Saturday.

C.J. Fair, a 6-foot-8, 215-pound junior, has been a consistent scorer (13.7 ppg.) and rebounder (7.0) for the Orange. He scored 23 points with 11 rebounds at Providence, and followed that up with a 22-point performance against Villanova. He also scored a career-high 25 points versus Temple. Fair leads the team in offensive rebounds (46) and is third in blocked shots (22). He is a .827 shooter (67-of-81) from the free-throw line, including 24-of-his-last-26. Fair has six double-doubles this season.

Fair gets help up front from 6-foot-9, 242-pound sophomore Rakeem Christmas, who is averaging 6.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. He is second to Fair in offensive rebounds (45). He leads the team in blocked shots with 43 and has gotten a hand on at least one shot in 19 of 21 games. Christmas had nine points and 10 rebounds in the loss at Villanova. He had 15 points and eight rebounds at Providence.

At 6-foot-6, 185 pounds, Michael Carter-Williams is the new breed of point guard. He averages 12.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 8.6 assists per game. He's had double-digit assists in nine games, including five in a row during the non-conference slate, and has had at least six assists in a game 17 times. Carter-Williams is a nightmare for the guards he defends. He's made an impressive 62 steals. Where he falls short at times is shooting the basketball. He is converting just .359 of his field-goal attempts, including a frigid .275 (22-of-80) from three-point range.

Helping fill the void up front in the absence of academically ineligible James Southerland (13.6 ppg., 5.2 rpg.) and the injured DaJuan Coleman (5.0 ppg., 4.4 rpg.) is 6-foot-8, 203-pound freshman Jerami Grant. The younger brother of Notre Dame's Jerian Grant has averaged 5.4 rebounds per game over the last five. Averaging 5.0 points and 3.0 rebounds per game for the season, Grant has scored 13 and 12 respectively against Villanova, and 10 against Louisville. He is shooting just .553 from the free-throw line (26-of-47). His playing time is expanding in the absence of Fair and Coleman.

Syracuse has plenty of length, however, with 6-foot-10, 215-pound Baye Keita helping up front. Keita is averaging 3.6 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. Yet Keita plays less than 15 minutes per game and has scored just 18 points in the last 10 games. He's second on the team in blocks with 23, but is shooting a woeful .483 from the charity stripe (14-of-29).

Six-foot-four, 195-pound freshman Trevor Cooney averages 4.5 points per game, but has been scoreless with just one shot attempt in the last two games/29 minutes. Cooney converts .292 (21-of-72) from beyond the arc. He hit 5-of-9 against Monmouth.

Prister's take: The Irish find themselves in a sticky situation tonight in Syracuse's Carrier Dome. They've done a nice job of bouncing back with three straight victories, including two on the road, after dropping three out of four, including two at home.

Syracuse, meanwhile, isn't accustomed to losing, let alone back-to-back games on the road against Villanova and Pittsburgh. The Orange is even less familiar with losing on their home court, where they've strung together 35 straight victories.

One also could interpret the Orange as being vulnerable, which Syracuse is at the present time with just seven scholarship players in uniform tonight, three of which are freshmen. Brandon Triche is the only senior in that group, and he lost the hot hand at Pittsburgh while the frontline was manhandled on the backboards (39-24).

Syracuse has the extra motivation of avenging last year's nine-point loss to the Irish in which the Orange shot just 34.0 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from three-point range.

Yet there's also no doubt that now would be a good time to take advantage of Syracuse's rocky play. Their bench is short, and they're not shooting well from the line (.671) or from beyond the arc (.323). They're not rebounding well. They miss academically-ineligible James Southerland and injured DaJaun Coleman, who were combining for 18.6 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. That has forced freshman Jerami Grant to play nearly 34 minutes per game in the last five, and he's not ready to play top-level basketball over that amount of time per game.

Led by Jack Cooley up front, the Irish have a decent chance of exchanging punches with the Orange big men. Cooley has grabbed 32 rebounds the past two games, and Tom Knight has adapted nicely to his starting role in place of the injured Scott Martin. In his three starts, Knight is averaging 11.0 points and 6.0 rebounds in just under 32 minutes per game. He also has five blocked shots and is shooting .576 from the field. Throw Zach Auguste into the mix - 10 points, 5-of-8 shooting, three rebounds and a blocked shot in 20 minutes/two games - and the Irish could exploit some of Syracuse's current frontline deficiencies.

The Irish don't appear to match up very well in the backcourt where Syracuse's size and strength is of major concern, especially with Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams eager to reverse a struggling trend in recent games. Triche will try to out-muscle Eric Atkins, and Jerian Grant could be in for a very long night against the 6-foot-6 Michael Carter-Williams, who has 62 steals, or nearly three per game. Carter-Williams will exploit Grant's ball-handling shortcomings. Triche and/or Carter-Williams will be a physical dilemma for Cam Biedscheid as well.

The Irish will play fearless against the Orange. But a combination of Syracuse's desire to get rolling again, the difficulty teams have shooting the basketball at the Carrier Dome, and the likelihood that Syracuse finds a way to win at home, puts an end to Notre Dame's modest three-game winning streak.

Ultimately, the Irish just need a split this week at Syracuse and at home against Louisville. Notre Dame is improving, and we see that again tonight at Syracuse. But it's not enough as they fall to 6-4 in Big East play, setting up a very important game Saturday night at Purcell Pavilion with ESPN's College Gameday on hand.
Pointspread: Syracuse by 8
Prister's Prediction: Syracuse 79, Notre Dame 67
Prister's record: 17-5 straight up; 7-12 vs. points


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