After suffering their first loss of conference play Wednesday, the No. 15 Irish return to the friendly confines of Purcell Pavilion for the first time in two weeks Saturday as Notre Dame hosts Syracuse.
Saturday will be the 48th meeting between the two programs with the first meeting coming in 1914. Syracuse leads the all-time series 28-19 and boast a 12-9 record in South Bend.
The Irish lost by 15 at the Carrier Dome a year ago and have not beaten Syracuse since joining the ACC. Notre Dame has not had any success against the Orange since the memorable upset of then-No.1 Syracuse in 2012.
Syracuse, despite making a surprise Final Four run last year, is far from a tournament team this season. The Orange lost at UNC Monday and come into Saturday’s game with an 11-8 record and a 3-3 conference mark. The record is not the only surprise regarding this Syracuse team, it is who they have lost to and how they have arrived at that record.
The Orange fell to St. John’s and Boston College, two of the worst teams in power conferences, at home – the Red Storm downed the ‘Cuse by 33 and BC beat the Orange by 15 with both games at the Carrier Dome. Boston College’s win at Syracuse was the Eagles’ first ACC win in two years.
Georgetown and UConn, who are both going through very down years, have also topped the Orange in the dome. Syracuse’s best win to date is a 15-point home win over Miami in their conference home-opener.
Andrew White III leads the Orange with 15.8 ppg., while Tyler Lydon adds 13 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Tyus Battle is an effective scoring point guard for Syracuse, but senior John Gillon leads the team with 5.1 assists per game.
Although this is a subpar Syracuse squad, their 2-3 zone can often get in the head of opponents, which has been the case in most of the ND-Syracuse matchups in recent memory.
One would think that a team who consistently trots out great shooters like Notre Dame would be licking their chops at the opportunity to play a zone, but Syracuse’s length in the zone has been a thorn in ND’s side for years.
If Notre Dame’s shots are falling early, the Irish will cruise. If, however, ND missed a few open looks in the opening minutes, the Irish have to avoid falling into the trap of pressing or becoming gun shy from the perimeter. Against the zone, it is easy to get lazy and settle for jumpers – playing aggressive and getting the ball to the interior is the only way to break down the defense.
The zone eliminates moat driving lanes, which will be a hindrance on Matt Farrell, but provides an opportunity for Bonzie Colson to exploit the defense from the inside. If a team can get passed the Syracuse length, the soft spot of any 2-3 zone is the middle.
If Colson can carve out real estate in the middle of that zone, he will have a field day. Colson getting the ball in that position allows him to shoot a short jumper or drive for a lay-up or a foul. If the zone collapses on Colson, that opens three-point opportunities on the wings and in the corners.
Saturday’s game will be the first home game for the Irish in two weeks and will be the first contest with the entire Leprechaun Legion intact in over a month. The energy that comes with being at home with a full student section should prevent the Irish from suffering a letdown after the tough loss to Florida State.
A quick start from Notre Dame is key. The longer they allow Syracuse to hang around, the more susceptible they are to press against the zone. Patience is a key when attacking a zone and if the Irish start slow, patience will not be a luxury they will have.
NOTE: Notre Dame great David Rivers will be inducted into the Ring of Honor at halftime of Saturday’s game