• Game 20: Notre Dame (14-5; 5-2) @ Syracuse (13-8; 3-5)
• Date: Jan. 28, 2016
• Place: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY
• Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
• TV: ESPN2
• Opponent Nickname: Orange
• Head coach: Jim Boeheim (*874-333 *record reflects 101 wins vacated between 2004-07 and 2010-12 by the NCAA)
• Conference: ACC
• Location: Syracuse, NY
• 2014-15 record: (18-13; 9-9)
Staked to a 5-2 league start but losers of three straight and six of their last seven against Syracuse, Notre Dame enters tonight’s contest at the Carrier Dome replete with house money. Fitting, because Mike Brey’s resurgent Irish are without the services of their (future) millionaire, point guard Demetrius Jackson
“He just needs time,” said Brey of his junior leader. “We can’t count on him Thursday – he’s not going to be ready Thursday…Sunday will be another story. We’ll see how he feels on Friday. Hamstrings are quirky, I just don’t want it to linger. Make sure we get him right.”
Notre Dame last won at Syracuse in late January 2007, a game in which the team’s combined to score 194 points. Tonight’s contest will likely trend toward the 120-130 range, as Syracuse has held three of its last four foes to season-low point totals.
The Orange are 3-2 since Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim returned from his nine-game suspension for NCAA violations. Syracuse lost to current No. 2 North Carolina and last weekend, to No. 13 Virginia, while also beating Duke in Durham in that stretch.
Mired in 10th place, the Orange has been installed as three-point favorites tonight over the Irish, one of three ACC squads within one game of second place in the league standings.
WITHOUT THE MAIN MAN
Taking Jackson’s place in the starting lineup will be power forward Bonzie Colson. One of the team’s best players, Colson went to the bench four games ago and the Irish haven’t lost since, with the sophomore playing the best basketball of his career off the bench.
Taking Jackson’s place in what has become a seven-man Irish rotation will be sophomore point guard Matt Farrell. Farrell’s role had been diminished in league play in favor of freshman Rex Pfleuger, a strong defender that adds a much longer wingspan and athleticism to the attack.
Look for Farrell and junior guard Steve Vasturia to handle the bulk of point guard duties tonight at the Carrier Dome. Notre Dame leads the ACC shooting at a 49.9 percent clip while committing the fewest turnovers per game in the nation, 9.2.
Syracuse forced the Irish into 14 turnovers and held the Jerian Grant-led attack to 34 percent shooting in last year’s win over Notre Dame in South Bend.
THEIR CALLING CARD
He’s dealt with it nearly annually since the turn of the century but that doesn’t make it any easier. Syracuse game preparation means tactics to attack one of the nation’s best zone defenses – the staple of the Orange program over the last four decades.
“You want to relax,” said Farrell of a player’s tendency when faced with the 2-3 wall that protects the basket. “(But) you have to attack the gaps, probe it a little bit. Make people come out and play you. Don’t settle, attack it, and get (the ball) below the free throw line.”
Brey echoed Farrell’s sentiments, noting that the Irish already learned what not to do once this season vs. the defensive strategy.
“The worst thing is to stand out there at 25 feet with the ball over your head,” Brey offered. “One thing we will do and have done more of since the Indiana game (an 80-73 loss on Dec. 19) when we did not attack it well, is cut against it…Get different guys in the high post so we’re not stagnant and standing.”
Brey added that the plan doesn’t vary much from facing a quality, sagging (help-side) man-to-man defense.
“Same man-to-man principles when you’re attacking a zone. Reversing the ball, getting a low-post touch,” he said. “Maybe that’s in the short corner? A touch at the foul line, we like Bonzie there.
“Eventually you have to make some shots over the top of it. And it’d be great to offensive rebound like we have been. Bonzie and (Zach Auguste) on the boards are a key.”
As for playing in the famed Carrier Dome, a first for four of the squad’s expected seven rotation members this evening, Brey was nonplussed. “(The key is) Not even make that big of a deal out of it. It’s a different landscape because it’s a dome and wide open. But if you talk too much about it, it becomes bigger than life.”
MEET THE ORANGE
Syracuse is led by its backcourt duo of Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije. Cooney demolished the Irish in the school’s last trip to upstate New York, hitting for a career-high 33 points with a school-record nine three-pointers en route to a 61-55 win by the then-No. 1 ranked Orange.
Gbinije collected six steals and 12 points in last season’s 65-60 upset win, one of just six losses suffered over 38 outings by Brey’s Irish.
“These two guards, you’re dealing with two 23-year-old fifth-year seniors,” said Brey of the Syracuse backcourt. “They’re men. They really make them go, so that’s a great challenge for Rex and Steve to defend those guys.
“They’re a little young on the backline. But they’ve had different guys step up for them offensively. Cooney’s destroyed us before up there so we have to be more alert chasing him around, especially early.”
-- A third guard, Orange freshman Malachi Richardson scored 23 points over the weekend in a 73-65 loss to No. 13 Virginia. Richardson hit 6 of 10 from long range against he Cavaliers.
-- Forward Tyler Roberon saw his streak of five consecutive games in double figures snapped in Charlottesville. The 6’8” junior ripped down 20 rebounds in a 64-62 win at Duke one week earlier.
O’Malley/Prister Prediction: Syracuse 67 Notre Dame 61