Game Notes: Notre Dame (20-5/10-3) has won 16 consecutive Big East games at home, the second longest streak in league history. Syracuse is no stranger to putting a halt to these kind of runs - in 2004 the Orange scored a 49-46 victory in Pittsburgh, halting their 20 game home win streak. Interestingly enough, that game also came on the 24 of February. Syracuse has also had a good deal of success in South Bend, where they have posted 10 victories in 16 trips. On the other hand, the Orange struggled mightily against Notre Dame last season, giving up more than 100 points in the Dome and losing a tough matchup in the Big East tourney. This Notre Dame team is remarkably similar to the team that SU couldn't beat last year, only they have added firepower in the form of SO PG Kyle McAlarney.
Notre Dame Personnel: Mike Brey basically uses an 8 man rotation that is centered around bruising PF/C Luke Harangody and PG Kyle McAlarney. Harangody ripped apart the Orange last year and has been even better this season, posting 20.5 ppg and 10.4 rpg. McAlarney is the team's second leading scorer at 15.1 ppg, hands out almost 4 helpers a game, and has already connected on 81 triples on the season. He has great range and is deadly accurate from beyond the arc (44.3%).
Notre Dame is highly proficient as a three point shooting team, making about 8 per contest at a remarkable 40.1% clip. Besides McAlarney, they get solid perimeter marksmenship from Rob Kurz (38.2%), Ryan Ayers (46.7%), Luke Zeller, (39.4%), and Jonathan Peoples (37.5%). The only player in the ND backcourt that doesn't shoot the three well is Tory Jackson at 26.1%; however last season he hit several triples from the top of the key against the SU zone.
Jackson is dishing over 6 assists per contest and has been a very solid performer on the season as the presence of McAlarney has relieved a great deal of scoring stress. Another player whose ballhandling skills have been invaluable is Zach Hillesland, a 6-9 forward with excellent passing and dribbling skills. Hillesland has been a super role-player for coach Brey; even though he's not a great scorer he has been able to contribute in numerous ways such as on defense, helping to set up the offense and break pressure, and adding on the glass.
Notre Dame runs a patient and efficient offense that features one of the best inside-outside duos in the Big East. When Harangody and McAlarney aren't doing damage, Rob Kurz and Ryan Ayers can step up with big games. Harangody's presence on the interior really opens things up for the Irish perimeter gunners... or of course it could be construed the other way. Regardless, few teams in the country have this mix of potent offense.
Keys for Orange Victory:
1) Limit Turnovers: More than anything, sloppy ballhandling is what doomed the Orange last year. Backcourt turnovers leading to breakaway baskets put the Orange in a huge hole and allowed Notre Dame to pour in 60+ points in the first half at the Dome. Similarly, poor ballhandling in the Garden allowed Notre Dame to multiple transition opportunities.
2) Contain Harangody: Easier said than done. Harangody has been a killer all too often this year, such as against West Virginia when he posted 29 pts and 14 rebs and in 2 games against Connecticut when the TOTALLED 64 points and 26 rebounds. The Orange can probably survive a 20 point / 10 rebound game, but won't be able to survive a 30 pt/15 reb game.
3) Get out on the Notre Dame shooters: Here's the real trick... points 2 and 3 seem to be an either/or proposition. SU will have to pack in the zone to take away Harangody, which would leave the perimeter shooters open to dissect the zone. If they take away the shooters, then Harangody could pull a Mike Sweetney on the zone and go for 30+.
4) Get Paul Harris going early: Notre Dame may be a good offensive team, but they lack the athletes to match up with SU's athletes. Harris was virtually unstoppable against the Irish in the Big East tourney last year, posting 24 points and 15 rebounds in just 22 minutes. Syracuse will need a similar type of game from him today. What would be most beneficial is if Boeheim instructs Harris and Onuaku to attack Harangody to try to get him in foul trouble.
5) The steady hand of Jonny Flynn: The young Syracuse point guard seems poised for a breakthrough game where he can control tempo and dictate gameplay from start to finish. Is today the day? He will need to play particularly strong against Tory Jackson, one of the most underrated players in the Big East.
6) Wake up Donte Greene: In a game where the Orange figure to have a large disparity in points from beyond the three point line, Greene must provide some consistency from beyond the arc. He's been abysmal shooting the ball recently, can he regain his accuracy?