Syracuse is 7-7 in the conference, ninth place but just a half game out of seventh. The Big East is likely to get 7 or 8 tournament bids, so SU's last four games will decide its post-season fate.
If it doesn't make the NCAA Tournament, Syracuse will have its conference road performance to blame. It's just 2-5 on the road with an away game remaining at Seton Hall in addition Sunday's clash in South Bend. The victories came at the expense of also-ran DePaul and disappointing Villanova. Notre Dame is its last chance to get a road victory against a team in the top half of the conference.
SU's road record may not inspire confidence against a team with a 35 home wins in a row, but it would be a mistake to simply assume a Notre Dame victory. Syracuse is a young, talented team that has improved throughout the season. Injuries ended two starters' seasons, Andy Rautins' before it started and Eric Devendorf's in the 10th game. SU's youngsters had to step into greater roles than, and they have responded. Freshmen Donte Greene and Jonny Flynn are the top two Orange scorers with 16.5 and 15.7 points per game respectively, and sophomores Paul Harris and Arinze Onuaku are third and fourth with 15.4 and 11.8. Depth is an issue, but scoring from the starting line-up is not.
Points are seldom a concern for Notre Dame, the conference leader in scoring and three point shooting. However, large shot blocking front lines have ND's bane the few times its offense has struggled. Syracuse is tied for second place with Georgetown with 5.0 blocked shots per game. The 2-3 zone that head coach Jim Boeheim employs gives Greene and fellow freshman Rick Jackson the freedom to use their height and athleticism to rotate to shots and block them.
For the second straight game, the Joyce Center match-up features the top two rebounding teams in the Big East. Syracuse moved into second place with a +3.3 rebounding margin after ND's 45-37 edge on the boards against Pitt on Thursday knocked the Panthers to third place. The Irish have out-rebounded their opponents by 6.5 boards per game.
Notre Dame's three point shooting vs. the Syracuse 2-3 zone – Notre Dame is leading the Big East with a 38.6% three point shooting percentage. Kyle McAlarney is the top individual long range shooter at 45.4%. Syracuse plays an active zone that's willing to stretch to the ball, resulting in the fifth best three point defense. The Orange holds its opponents to just 30.5% shooting beyond the arc. Three point shots tend to ignite Notre Dame's scoring bursts, so Syracuse must contest every long range shot to keep the score manageable.
Luke Harangody vs. SU's shot blockers – Shot blockers hindered Harangody's scoring early in the season; but he has countered by adding a mid-range jump shot to keep the shot blockers honest. Mike Brey likes to attack the zone with a big man at the free throw line in position to shoot, pass, or drive. Will that be Harangody?
Tory Jackson vs. Jonny Flynn – Freshman Flynn is where Jackson was a year ago. He was forced into a starting role before planned, and he's proving to be up to the challenge. Like Jackson's a year ago, Flynn's shooting is inconsistent; but he's great with the ball and willing to drive to the basket. Flynn mush match Jackson point for point, assist for assist, and steal for steal if SU is to have a chance. Flynn isn't likely to match Jackson on the boards, but 3.1 per game shows that the little point guard is willing to fight the big guys for the ball.
SU against itself shooting from long range – Syracuse will need to make some three point shots to beat the conference's #1 scoring team on its own floor. Unfortunately for the Orange, it's the worst three point shooting team in the conference at 28%. Its leading three point shooter is the 6'9" Greene who's making 29.2% of his long range shots.
Has it been 30 years already?
Notre Dame's 1978 Final Four team will be honored at halftime. Head Coach Digger Phelps and players Bruce Flowers, Bill Hanzlik, Tim Healy, Tracy Jackson, Gil Salinas, Stan Wilcox, Don Williams, and Orlando Woolridge are expected to attend.
Syracuse Orange vs. the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Sunday, February 24th, 2:00PM EST
Joyce Center, Notre Dame, IN
Television – CBS regional coverage
Radio - WNDV "U93", 92.9 FM in South Bend; WLS, 890 AM in Chicago, ESPN Radio "XL950", 950 AM in Indianapolis, and other outlets throughout the USA.
Internet Radio Links - http://und.cstv.com/sports/m-baskbl/nd-m-baskbl-body.html and http://www.xl950.com/