The #15 Notre Dame Fighting Irish basketball team (16-3, 5-1 ACC) returns home from a 2-1 road trip to host the Syracuse Orange (11-8, 3-3 ACC) this Saturday at 12 PM ET.
To arm you with knowledge before the game, I talked to James Szuba of Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician, the Syracuse site here at SB Nation.
Read James’ responses below to learn more about Syracuse’s fresh faces, the team’s early struggles, and whether or not James thinks Jim Boeheim stands a chance against Mike Brey in a dance-off.
Syracuse lost its top 3 scorers from last season’s Final Four run. How have the new guys stepped in this season?
Well, Tyler Lydon didn’t get off to an auspicious start per se, but he’s really come into his own of late (see: UNC game). Andrew White has been mostly solid all season. He’s proven to be lethal from long range but only satisfactory from two.
The freshmen — Tyus Battle and Taurean Thompson — have been solid. The former has come along nicely in conference play and the latter is a pure scorer. It’s hard to replace the three guys from last year, but we’ve managed.
Cuse is currently 11-8 overall and getting into the meat of ACC play, which is going to be a gauntlet of tough games for everyone in the conference. What has gone wrong so far in losing 8 of the first 19, and what do the Orange need to improve in order to put themselves in position for a tourney bid?
Where do I begin?
I’ll start with the defense. We don’t have a returning starter from last season in the current starting lineup. With Syracuse being a system program (2-3 zone), it’s taken time for the first year guys — including the fifth-year seniors — time to learn the zone. They’ve all come a long way, but unfortunately we’ve put ourselves in a big hole. Couple that with DaJuan and Paschal being hurt and poor point guard play and you find yourself at 11-8.
How can we get to the tourney?
Win the ACC Tournament? I don’t think it’s realistic, but getting big time wins in the ACC would be a lift. But trying to find 9-10 more wins in the conference is asking a lot.
Who is the one player that will haunt Notre Dame’s dreams - that they should worry most about heading into this one?
You might want to box out Tyler Roberson. Other than that I’d say Lydon. You won’t stop him, but if you can mitigate him and make Andrew White a driver you should have no issue slowing the Syracuse offensive attack.
So yeah, there’s three guys and not one.
How important has Andrew White been as an experienced scorer on this young team?
Vital. Important. All those adjectives.
It’d be hard to imagine where Syracuse would be without him.
Who are the young diaper dandies on this year’s Orange squad and what do they bring to the table?
Tyus and Taurean, as mentioned above. Tyus came in known as a driver but has shot the ball at an incredible clip from outside. Much to our surprise, Taurean is an immensely talented offensive player. Both can score the ball really well.
What are Syracuse’s big weaknesses as a team, and its greatest strengths?
We can’t defend the three worth a lick, so enjoy the field day on Saturday.
Greatest strength? Ironically, it would have to be making perimeter shots.
Syracuse constantly gives ND issues with its length and that vaunted Boeheim zone defense. Is this year more of the same?
Quite the contrary. The length is there and the zone is improving, but UND should shoot well in this game and Matt Farrell is already giving me nightmares — his speed and ability to attack the zone off the bounce should loosen things up for you.
Dance-off between Jim Boeheim and Mike Brey - who wins and what songs do they both dance to?
Excellent question. I don’t think Boeheim has ever danced a day in his life. Jimmy likes Bruce Springsteen but I’d bet he’s a Curtis Mayfield type of guy. Perhaps some Marvin Gaye. If I were a DJ, I’d throw on Kodak Black just to see the reaction.
Brey wins by a landslide.
Syracuse wins if...
An act of God occurs.
Notre Dame wins if...
They roll the balls out and show up.
Ultimate prediction - who wins, what’s the score, and why?
Notre Dame 86-72
You guys can shoot threes. Syracuse can’t defend threes.
I want to thank James for answering all of my questions (and especially his thoughtful response to the dance-off question), and encourage you all to check out Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician for any and all Syracuse-related updates leading up to Saturday’s game, as well as James’ article wherein I answered all of his questions.