SF Michael Gbinije – Syracuse: Gbinije has been on a tear over the last five games. The junior wing never takes a bad shot, is always under control, plays exceptional defense, rebounds well and distributes. The way he is playing down the stretch of this season suggests he could be the go-to guy next year. His recent strong play started at Pittsburgh where he poured in 23 points and had four steals.
C Rakeem Christmas – Syracuse: Rakeem Christmas had another strong game on Saturday finishing with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks against Pittsburgh. His recent slump behind him, Christmas is back to being the stud that has been throughout the season. He will be a tough matchup for Zach Auguste, who will try to contain the senior center.
PG Jerian Grant – Notre Dame: Jerian Grant is on the short list of the best players in the ACC. He is an electric guard who can score from anywhere, is dynamic in the lane, passes extremely well and takes care of the ball. He will be a load for the Orange to handle. If he gets into the lane, he can be extremely dangerous.
SF Pat Connaughton – Notre Dame: Connaughton is one of the deadliest outside shooters in the nation. He hits 45% of his shots from beyond the arc and is also Notre Dame’s leading rebounder. The Orange will have to keep an eye on him all game to make sure they don’t give him open looks.
- Rakeem Christmas needs four points to hit the 1,000 career points mark. He would be the 59th player in Syracuse history to accomplish the feat.
- Notre Dame is on a three game winning streak. They are currently second in the conference with a 12-3 mark.
- Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey is in his 15th year with the Irish, compiling a 324-163 record.
- Syracuse leads the all-time series 26-19. They have won two in a row and six of the previous seven.
- Notre Dame is second in the nation in shooting at 51.3% from the field overall.
- They are also 10th in the country in scoring at 79.8 points per game.
- Four Irish starters average double figures in scoring. Jerian Grant leads at 17 points per game, Pat Connaughton averages 13, while Zach Auguste and Demetrius Jackson are over 12 per game.
Notre Dame Offense vs. Syracuse Defense
The plan against the zone is quite simple. Penetrate with guards and attack the basket or look for open shooters. Notre Dame has the personnel to execute that plan perfectly.
Jerian Grant can drive and is one of the best players in the country off the dribble. He can score at the rim, hit the outside shot and find his teammates. He leads the conference in assists and assist-to-turnover ratio.
Grant is not the only guard who has that type of versatility to his game. Demetrius Jackson is an even better outside shooter and extremely creative attacking the basket.
That combination will test the top of the Syracuse zone as they try to keep the quick, athletic Irish backcourt from penetrating while also staying at home to their plethora of outside shooters.
The ability to hit from the outside while also attacking the rim puts the Orange zone in a major bind. It will keep the zone spaced in order to stay at home on shooters, leaving Rakeem Christmas in a lot of one on one situations.
That also opens the floor for some backdoor cuts, which will bring the forwards inside and leave the corners wide open for spot-up shooters.
To top it off, the Irish have a solid big in Zach Auguste. He can hit the mid-range jumper and is skilled on the inside.
Notre Dame will test the Syracuse zone unlike any team they have faced this season. It will easily be the most difficult matchup for the Orange defense. Rebounding and playing physical defense will be critical.
Syracuse Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense
Notre Dame mixes up their defensive looks between man and zone. When playing man, they are solid but not overly aggressive. Jerian Grant is their best on-ball defender, using his quickness and length to cause problems for opposing guards.
He will give Kaleb Joseph fits, using his experience to try to rattle the young point guard.
Demetrius Jackson is also a solid defensive guard. His quickness serves him well, allowing him to stay in front of guards as they attempt to drive.
On the inside, Notre Dame lacks elite rim protectors, though Zach Auguste is adequate. This should allow Syracuse a chance to attack the rim, if they can get by the Irish backcourt.
Auguste will likely have the assignment of guarding Rakeem Christmas. Christmas has an athleticism and skill advantage in this one, but Auguste won’t make it easy. This is where Syracuse has a significant advantage and must exploit it early and often.
Michael Gbinije should attack anytime has Connaughton him. Gbinije has the quickness edge and should be able to get some easy looks inside.
If Syracuse is able to go inside with Gbinije and Christmas, look for Notre Dame to switch to zone. That will force Syracuse to try to beat them from the outside, a big weakness for the Orange.
Trevor Cooney normally stretches opposing defenses, but he has been battling a bad back. That has significantly impacted his shooting ability over the last several games. If he is unable to hit, the Irish zone could collapse inside.
When the Irish go man, look for a lot of ball screens by Syracuse with Gbinije and either Roberson or Christmas.
Syracuse has a tall task in this matchup as Notre Dame’s offensive fire power looks to be too much on paper. The Orange always play hard and will give another valiant effort, but they will need several players to step up if they are to pull the road upset.