I’ll just come out and say it so we can move on. I’m flat out embarrassed that I had no faith in the Irish on Wednesday against NC State. They came out firing on all cylinders after probably reading my preview and wanting to make me look foolish. After averaging 34 points in the first half this season, the Irish dropped 48 before the break against the Wolfpack and never looked back, winning by 30 in the end.
Alright, I won’t take all the credit. There were plenty of other doubters out there that fueled the fire, but for good reason. It really made no sense that the Irish could lose their MVP, Bonzie Colson, and play that well offensively. Then Farrell rolled his ankle, and they started playing even better? I still don’t get it.
I want to give Mike Brey all the credit for getting his guys to move the ball as well as they did out of necessity, knowing they couldn’t move it into the paint as much without Colson. Then again, it made me wonder if the 7-man rotation the Irish had been using should have been spread more evenly into a 9-man rotation all along.
We’ll find out if Notre Dame’s new lineup is for real when it heads to Syracuse to play the Orange in the Carrier Dome on Saturday with Colson and Farrell both sitting out.
- #BreysChase is over! Mike Brey is now Notre Dame’s all-time leader in men’s basketball coaching wins. Next is the countdown to 400 wins, for which Brey only needs six more.
- This will be the 49th meeting between the old Big East foes, with Syracuse leading 28-20 over Notre Dame.
- The Irish have the third-most ACC wins in the three-plus years since joining the conference (39), behind Virginia (42) and North Carolina (40).
- That 48-point first half against NC State was an ACC record, and so was the nine three-point field goals the Irish made in the first half.
- DJ Harvey’s 17 points against the Wolfpack were the most scored by a first-year freshman in a first career start at Notre Dame since Chris Thomas scored 24 points in 2001.
- During Notre Dame’s four-game winning streak, Rex Pflueger is averaging 14.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game.
- Notre Dame has not won in the Carrier Dome since 2007.
When: Saturday, January 6, 2018, 3:15 p.m. ET
Where: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, New York
How to Watch: ESPN2 national telecast with Mike Couzens and Cory Alexander.
Syracuse Orangemen (12-3, 1-1)
The Orange are a long, athletic team that will play stifling defense at times with Jim Boeheim’s patented zone, but they aren’t that threatening on offense.
‘Cuse is led by a three-headed monster in its rotation that hardly ever leaves the floor. Sophomore guard Tyus Battle, junior guard Frank Howard, and freshman forward Oshae Brissett all average 37 minutes per game. I’ll let that sink in for a second.
Their numbers are probably inflated a bit because of that, but Battle leads the way with 19.4 points per game, Howard leads the team in assists with 5.9 per game to go along with 15.8 points, and Brissett leads the team in rebounds with 9.7 per game and 15.5 points to boot. It’s a dynamic combination of skills, but outside of that the Orange have no threats offensively.
The next highest scoring player on the team is graduate transfer Geno Thorpe, with six points per game, and he only played in six games in November for ‘Cuse before leaving the program for personal reasons.
The two other starters for Syracuse are junior center Paschal Chukwu and sophomore forward Matthew Moyer. Chukwu is a 7-foot-2 shot blocker, ranking second in the ACC with 3.3 blocks per game, and he averages 5.7 points. Moyer averages 4.7 points and 5.5 rebounds.
As a team, Syracuse averages just 71.4 points per game on 43.1 percent shooting. Howard is the shortest starter at 6-foot-5, and with all that size comes a lack of three-point shooting. Syracuse shoots 30.7 percent from deep, yet they still average 18 attempts per game.
The Orange clearly rely on their defense, holding opponents to 62.9 points per game on 38.6 percent shooting, and 33.7 percent from behind the arc. They also understandably have a +9.3 rebound margin, along with 6.4 blocks and 8.5 steals per game.
Orangeman to Watch:
Tyus Battle, G, Sophomore
Battle is the offensive leader for Syracuse and doesn’t do much else besides score. He averages just 2.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game, while leading the team in field goal attempts and second in minutes played. He is second on the team in steals, so he’s active defensively and will put pressure on T.J. Gibbs on the perimeter. Battle has eclipsed 20 points on eight occasions, with his season-high 29 coming against Georgetown. If the Irish are going to focus on slowing down one of the big three, it has to be Battle.
Rex Pflueger, G, Junior
As mentioned before, Pflueger has been stepping up in a big way lately and will have to continue doing so for the Irish. The 6-foot-6 guard is possibly Notre Dame’s best defender and matches up physically well with Battle and Howard. He may need to have his best game of the season on both ends of the floor for the Irish to win this game. Perimeter shooting will be a key for Notre Dame, so Pflueger has to hit a few more three’s than usual. Given the well-documented struggles this team has had rebounding the ball, that’s probably the most important effort Pflueger has to make against a bigger Syracuse team.
Notre Dame 71 - Syracuse 68
I’m going against the grain in this one, as far as my OFD colleagues are concerned. That’s probably just because of my lack of hope earlier in the week. I have to make up for it somehow. But I do believe this is going to be a fun game to watch and should be very close. When you think about Syracuse’s size and defense, it’s easy to convince yourself that Notre Dame will lose this one without their senior leaders. Playing in the post will definitely be a challenge, but Notre Dame will have to try it to crack this zone. If they can do that and find a way to knock down some outside shots and play fast in transition like they did against NC State, the Irish can pull it off.