NO. 1 SYRACUSE (20-0, 7-0 Big East) AT NOTRE DAME (11-8, 3-3 Big East)
Time/TV: 6 p.m./ESPN
Location: Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center
RPI Ratings: Syracuse No. 1 (No. 1 Big East); Notre Dame 121 (No. 13 Big East)
Line: Syracuse -9 (Total 133)
Syracuse Players to Watch: F Kris Joseph, 6-7 Sr. (13.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 37.8% 3s); G Dion Waiters, 6-4 So. (13.1 ppg, 2.8 apg, 52.4% FG); G Scoop Jardine, 6-2 Sr. (8.6 ppg, 4.8 apg, 39.2% 3s). Jardine’s point and assist totals are down, but he did have a double-double 12 points and 10 assists in the Orange’s 71-63 triumph over Pitt on Monday.
Notre Dame Players to Watch: G Eric Atkins, 6-1 So. (13.3 ppg, 3.6 apg, 3.1 rpg); F Jack Cooley, 6-9 Jr. (10.4 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 58.5% FG); G Scott Martin, 6-8 Sr. (9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.4 apg). Atkins scored a game-high 15 points in the Irish’s 65-58 loss to Rutgers on Monday. It was the 12th time in 19 games this season he has scored in double figures. He has led Notre Dame in scoring a team-best seven times and has played 40 minutes or more in five of six Big East games.
Storylines: Syracuse is 20-0 for the first time in program history. Since a pair of 6-point wins over Syracuse and Marshall, only Pitt (71-63 on Monday) and Marquette (73-66 on Jan. 7) have played the Orange within 14 points. Notre Dame is 3-4 in the Big East after back-to-back losses to Connecticut and Rutgers. The Irish have a long way to go to be considered for an NCAA bid. A win over No. 1 Syracuse would be a great start.
Keys: Syracuse is the best team in the country because it can do a little of everything. The Orange get more steals (10.6) than any team in the country. They ranked third in assist-to-turnover ratio (17.3-11.2), 10th in assists, 21st in field goal percentage and only 14 teams turn the ball over less than Syracuse. The good news for the Irish is they turn the ball over just 9.9 times per contest, which is third in America. Syracuse sophomore center Fab Melo, who ranks ninth in the nation at three blocks per game, had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds in the win over Pitt. No team in the nation can match the quality of Syracuse’s depth. The Orange go nine or 10 players deep without losing much effectiveness, if any. The Orange bench outscored Providence’s 41-6 in a 78-55 victory on Jan. 14. It seems Syracuse’s one weakness could be rebounding. Unless Cooley has a huge game on the boards, Notre Dame doesn’t appear equipped to take advantage of it. Syracuse plays at Cincinnati on Monday. The Bearcats are 15-4 and 5-1 in the Big East and have won 10 of its last 11 games, so there’s a possibility the Orange could look past the struggling Irish. Notre Dame is 10-1 at the Joyce Center, but last week UConn ended its 29-game home winning streak. Syracuse is 4-0 on the road with an average winning margin of 15.5 points per outing.
The Bottom Line: Nine points is a lot to give up in a road game, especially when the Irish have been so good at home. It may take a while, but expect Syracuse to pull away for a convincing win heading into Monday’s matchup with Cincinnati.
The Pick: Syracuse 88, Notre Dame 67.