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Men’s Basketball: No. 1 task

Andrew Owens | Thursday, January 19, 2012

After suffering consecutive conference losses, the Irish return to action at home Saturday against top-ranked Syracuse.

The Orange (20-0, 7-0 Big East) are off to their best start in school history, as they had never started a season with 20 consecutive wins before defeating Pittsburgh 71-63 on Monday.

Irish coach Mike Brey said he is excited about the team’s opportunity to play No. 1 Syracuse, adding that the return of the student body from winter break is a big advantage for his squad.

“[Playing No. 1] is a great opportunity for us,” he said. “It’s another league game, but it’s a special league game. I love the fact that our students are back. We have missed our sixth man in this building. We’re 29-1 in our last 30 games in this building. We’d like to get our students and their energy back.”

The one home loss during that stretch came in Notre Dame’s last home game, a 67-53 defeat to Connecticut last Saturday.

Brey said it is important Notre Dame (11-8, 3-3) plays its style in order to compete against the vaunted and deep Orange roster.

“We’re really going to have to control tempo,” he said. “We can’t run up and down the floor with them. They have too many bodies to do that with. When we have won here the last couple of years, we’ve been good at controlling tempo.”

The coach went on to stress the importance of his team’s adherence to the ‘burn offense’ he has installed to slow down the pace of play.

“We’re always kind of burning. I would say we’re semi-burning a lot of times with this team,” Brey said. “A better way of putting it would be we need to be overly patient. We can’t take quick shots. That burn mentality has permeated through [the team]. It’s been a good teaching tool to understand patience against teams that want to run.”

In its last two losses, Notre Dame has experienced some offensive struggles and has failed to reach the 60-point mark in both contests.

Sophomore guard Eric Atkins and graduate student forward Scott Martin were the only Irish players to reach double-digit point totals against Rutgers, posting 15 and 11 points, respectively. The Orange, meanwhile, have yet to score fewer than 70 points in a Big East matchup this season.

The Irish and Orange will tip-off Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Purcell Pavilion.