We were fortunate enough to hear from our friend John Cassillo (@JohnCassillo) from Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician (SBNation's Syracuse athletics site) in advance of Tuesday night's showdown of former Big East rivals. This post is composed of John's answers to my 6 questions. You can find my responses to John's insightful questions here.
Give Irish fans the Orange season in a nutshell. After a hot 4-0 start in ACC play, things cooled off. Syracuse has been alternating W's and L's for the month of February. What challenges must Jim Boehiem face as he closes down this season?
Well, the conference schedule started off with some pretty easy opponents, and then as things got tougher a banged-up and not-as-good-as-recent-years Syracuse showed it just wasn't up to snuff this season. This group has still fought hard and been in every game this season, of course. Reaching recent heights yet again just wasn't meant to be.
The biggest challenges are the strength of schedule to close the year, along with motivating a team with nothing to play for, and fatigue from what's largely been a six-man rotation all year.
We've got to address the elephant in the room. Give us a sense of how Syracuse fans feel about voluntarily withdrawing from post-season competition this year. How do you counter cynics who believe this was done once the current team started to struggle?
We're fine with it because of how the season's gone, and how next season is supposed to go (much better). Cynics can say what they want about the timing -- and I don't blame them one bit for that, because I was skeptical myself. But you also have to look at how these things work. Schools don't operate outside of the NCAA process, especially when the main takeaway from the investigation is that SU has been entirely cooperative. This is a plea bargain of sorts. Now the Orange just have to hope there are minimal additional penalties.
Rakeem Chistmas will only put on a Syracuse Orange jersey 4 more times, including Tuesday night in South Bend. Give us a sense of the senior's improvement over the course of his career and his role on this current team.
Christmas has always been the most athletic player on the floor, and now his abilities finally seem to match that. Over the offseason, he worked to improve his shot and his strength in the middle, and it's paid some huge dividends. Boeheim saying he'd run the offense through the big man this season also helps. But this level of improvement and success doesn't occur without some hard work from Christmas to make it come to fruition.
For our readers who many not follow the Orange as closely, who's that 2nd guy to watch out for?
At one point in the season, maybe Trevor Cooney, who's always a streaky perimeter shooter. But now, it's Michael Gbinije, our dynamic swingman who possesses the interesting combination of size and speed that make him an equal risk to drive to the rim or nail a three. He's having one of the best shooting seasons of any Syracuse guard or small forward in recent memory (except for free throws), and is on pace to finish with the program's best three-point percentage since 1988. So yeah, watch out for him.
Notre Dame has been very efficient on offense this year, and while the Orange are still in the top 60 of Ken Pomeroy's defensive ratings, the 2-3 has taken a dip in effectiveness vs. previous years. How do you see ND attacking the zone
Where teams are beating Syracuse more so this year than previous ones is in transition and from three. With fatigue playing a factor, the Orange just can't seem to get back in transition well, and if teams can run on them, it'll be a long evening. If there's a reliable three-point shooter, that also spells bad things for SU, as there really isn't an athlete to get out to that line and defend since Chris McCullough was injured back in January.
What are the most important offensive and defensive key's you'll be watching Tuesday night? How do you see them playing out, and what's your prediction?
If Notre Dame can run and hit threes, this one will not be all that close. But if they let Christmas run wild in the paint, and Gbinije gets hot (not a stretch lately), then the Orange can at least keep it close. I don't think SU wins, but they put up a decent fight and grind ND down a little from a pace standpoint. The Fighting Irish come away with a 70-64 victory.
Six man rotation eh? I'm sure Tom Noie has some insights on that for John and the gang. We all now how much Tom loves that #narrative. Shout out to John for initiating this and his answers. Be sure to tune in Tuesday evening.