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Men’s Basketball: Midtown madness

Chris Hine | Thursday, March 8, 2007

NEW YORK – The last time Notre Dame played Syracuse, the Irish utilized an up-tempo transition offense to set their season high point total in a 103-91 win over the Orange Jan. 30 in the Carrier Dome.

But Notre Dame coach Mike Brey expects the teams’ second meeting to be different. The Irish face the Orange at 2 p.m. today in an ESPN televised quarterfinal of the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York City .

“I would think if we play Syracuse they will play zone for 40 minutes,” Brey said. “They will sit in it and make us play against that for 40 minutes. I was surprised that we didn’t see it at all [last time].”

The Orange (22-9, 10-6 Big East) broke away from their traditional 2-3 zone in the teams’ first matchup and played man-to-man defense – but to little use. Playing without injured forward Rob Kurz, the Irish (23-6, 11-5) still had five players finish in double figures and shot 48 percent from the field.

Syracuse forward Demetris Nichols led all scorers with 29 points while forward Terrence Roberts added 20 in the teams’ first meeting.

“The last time we beat Syracuse … I’m not saying that they’re the same team, but the psychological advantage is on our side being that we are 1-0 against them this season,” Irish guard Russell Carter said.

Syracuse applied backcourt defensive pressure late in its first game against the Irish and cut a 28-point Notre Dame lead to 10 with 2:42 remaining, but the Irish held off the Orange in the final minutes. Brey is not concerned about the press this time around. Instead, Syracuse’s zone remains the focus.

“I would not be worried about their press, but they didn’t play us any zone up there,” Brey said. “[Orange coach Jim Boeheim] did not start zone against us.”

Since its loss to Notre Dame, Syracuse has won seven of its last nine contests, including a 72-58 upset of No. 9 Georgetown Feb. 26.

“They’re probably going to try and get a little revenge. We went in there and established the rhythm and tempo we wanted at their place,” Irish forward Zach Hillesland said “They’re another team that’s playing really well now.”

Hillesland could be the key to cracking Syracuse’s zone defense because of the success he has had this season against the zone. In Notre Dame’s 81-78 win against Providence Feb. 15, Hillesland lingered near the foul line and disrupted Providence’s 2-3 zone defense, collecting 14 points on 7-of-11 shooting. The extra attention Providence gave Hillesland opened up opportunities inside for Kurz, who finished that game with 15 points.

Syracuse gained entry into the quarterfinals of the conference tournament with a 78-65 victory over Connecticut Wednesday. The No. 16/20 Irish earned a bye in the first round after finishing fourth in the regular season standings. The winner will face either Georgetown or Villanova in the semifinals Friday.