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January 17, 2009

Preview: No. 12 Notre Dame @ No. 8 Syracuse

Well rested after a two games in three days, including an exhausting overtime loss at Louisville, the No. 12-ranked Fighting Irish (12-4, 3-2) will try to avoid a second straight setback for the first time since the beginning of the 2007-08 season when they fell to Baylor and Georgia Tech in the Virgin Islands.

No. 8-rated Syracuse (16-2, 4-1) will be hungry to make up for their last game at Georgetown when the Hoyas handed the Orange their first Big East loss-an 88-74 pasting in Washington D.C.-ending their seven-game winning streak.

Saturday's tip-off is scheduled for 12 noon ET. ESPN will provide the coverage.

Jim Boeheim (Syracuse '66), now in his 33rd year at his alma mater, has yet another talented, athletic and dynamic crew. They own non-conference victories over Kansas and Florida, and their only loss prior to the misstep against Georgetown was a home loss to Cleveland State on a three-quarter court shot at the buzzer.

In Big East play, the Orange leads the conference in scoring (80.0), field-goal percentage (.510) and three-point percentage (.444). Guards Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins are averaging 41 points per game among them while frontline performers Paul Harris, Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson combine for 28 points and 22 rebounds per game.

None of the aforementioned players is a senior. Flynn and Jackson are sophomores and the other five are juniors. An incredible six different players have led the Orange in scoring this season.

Flynn, the 6-foot-0 sophomore, has stepped to the forefront on a team loaded with top-notch guards. Averaging a team-leading 16.3 points per game, Flynn has had games of 27, 25, 24 and 24 points while handing out better than five assists per game and shooting 49.2 percent from the field.

Devendorf, the 6-foot-4 junior who missed last season with a knee injury and was suspended earlier this season, is averaging 14.3 points per game while connecting on 39.1 percent of his three-point attempts.

Rautins, a 6-foot-5 junior who also missed last season with a knee injury, is scoring at a 10.6 clip while shooting 38.7 percent from three-point range. He did, however, play just nine minutes in Syracuse's loss to Georgetown as some issues with his knee have returned.

Leading the way up front is the 6-foot-9, 275-pound Onuaku, who paces the Big East in field goal percentage at 69.8. He is averaging 12.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. The Irish will look to foul Onuaku at crunch time. He is just a 40.0 percent shooter from the line (28-of-70).

The glue of the Orange is Harris, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound junior who is averaging 13.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game while shooting 53.5 percent from the field.

"They are so talented offensively," said Irish head coach Mike Brey. "They can score it from a number of different spots and really play well together. In a lot of ways, we're very similar style teams. They have guys who know their roles.

"The biggest thing is can you slow them down offensively because they can really get in a rhythm and they can get to 85 or 90 pretty quick. When you play them, you play against the 2-3 zone, which we've had some success playing against them. But it looks like Jim (Boeheim) has let them play a little more man-to-man, and they've won games when they've come out of their zone."

If it comes down to a free-throw shooting contest, the Orange could struggle. Through five Big East games, they rank last in the conference with a .556 mark. They won at South Florida, 59-54, despite missing 11-of-18 free-throw attempts. They also missed 13-of-23 attempts against Georgetown.

Notre Dame has won three straight against Syracuse, including a 94-87 victory last season. Kyle McAlarney tossed in 30 points in that game, connecting on 9-of-11 three-pointers, while Luke Harangody had 14 points and 14 rebounds. McAlarney, a New York native, will be making his first collegiate appearance inside the Carrier Dome.

The Irish also defeated Syracuse, 89-83, in the 2007 Big East tournament, and won their last game in the Carrier Dome, 103-91 in January 2007, without injured Rob Kurz.

Pointspread: Syracuse by 4
Prister's Prediction: Syracuse 83, Notre Dame 71
Season record: 12-4 overall; 4-5 vs. points



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