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Men’s Basketball: Rugged Road

Greg Arbogast | Friday, January 16, 2009

It’s not often that playing at the No. 8 team in the country could be considered the least difficult game of a three-game stretch, but such is life in the 2009 Big East.

Sandwiched between a road game against pre-season No. 3 Louisville and a home game against current No. 4 Connecticut, No. 12 Notre Dame travels to No. 8 Syracuse for a noon game Saturday.

The Orange owe their high ranking largely to a 16-1 record entering the week, but it’s unclear whether or not Syracuse is as good as the pollsters currently say they are. None of the Orange’s 16 wins have come against teams currently ranked in the top 25 of the Coaches’ Poll, and Syracuse’s four Big East wins have come against teams with a combined conference record of 1-16 as of Thursday.

And in their one game against a top 25 opponent Wednesday, the Orange were handily defeated by 14 points at Georgetown.

Whether or not Syracuse is fully deserving of its current top-10 status, the Irish know walking out of the Carrier Dome with a win will be difficult.

“I don’t put much stock in the fact [they have no wins against] the top 25,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “I look at how they’re playing.

“They can pass and catch and shoot. They know who their weapons are, and they know how to play together. They’re definitely a NCAA Tournament team the way they’re playing.”

A big factor that will likely determine whether or not Notre Dame gets back in the win column will be rebounding. Currently ranked 10th in the Big East in rebounding margin, Notre Dame’s struggles on the glass have arguably cost the team several games thus far in the season.

Irish forward Luke Harangody said athletic, longer teams are the ones that give Notre Dame the most trouble on the boards, and he said Syracuse partly falls into that category.

“They’re another athletic Big East team,” Harangody said. “You can put them in the athletic mode with [forward Paul] Harris, but they can also beat you up on the inside.”

Harangody was likely referring to a pair of 6-foot-9 forwards – Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson – who provide a one-two punch in the paint that could be difficult for the Irish to handle. Brey is concerned about the two big men as well as Harris crashing from the outside. Onuaku has 19 points in last year’s matchup, Harris had 22 while both grabbed 12 rebounds.

“Those three guys are terrors on the offensive boards,” Brey said referring to Onuaku, Jackson and Harris. “This team can really beat us up on the boards if we’re not battling in the paint.”

On the other side of the ball, Notre Dame will likely see a steady dose of Syracuse’s patented 2-3 zone. The Irish successfully ran their offense against that defense last year in their 94-87 win over Syracuse

If either Notre Dame or Syracuse finds its shooting stroke Saturday, the game could turn into a shootout.

Much like Notre Dame, the Orange have an offense capable of running teams out of the gym. They are currently third in the Big East, averaging 80.9 points per game, and five players average double figures in scoring.

Sophomore guard Jonny Flynn, who has already grabbed the attention of many NBA teams, leads the pack at 16.3 points per game.