Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 6:39 PM
You longtime readers of the NOTEBOOK know that we’re not generally fans of Notre Dame basketball when it comes to having to play big games away from home. Their weaknesses get magnified. Their strengths fade. And, they often underachieve expectations in a big way.
But…if there was ever a situation that plays to their wheelhouse…it’s facing a zone defense that encourages outside shooting. Basketball bettors have long known that the best way to beat a zone is to go over the top. That’s what Notre Dame CAN do with the talent it recruits for this coaching regime.
With that in mind, let’s run Big Monday’s feature game from the Big East through the college basketball indicator gauntlet we presented for you in Saturday’s huge Michigan/Indiana game. Do the Irish have what it takes to score the road upset? Or, will their tendencies to play soft defensively keep them on the losing end of the equation?
Notre Dame: 18-4 (6-3 in the Big East)
Syracuse: 18-3 (6-2 in the Big East)
In the standings, these look like similar teams. The records are almost identical…with the extra conference loss being the only thing that would suggest Notre Dame is a fractionally inferior team. Is that reality? Or, does scheduling soft in November and December help build illusions. The respected computer systems we like to post for you adjust for strength of schedule. Let’s see what they have to say.
Notre Dame: #28 with Sagarin, #50 with Pomeroy
Syracuse: #8 with Sagarin, #7 with Pomeroy
Not so equal there. Both computers would have Syracuse rated as an Elite 8 caliber team deserving of a #2 seed. Notre Dame is way off the pace. Jeff Sagarin of USA Today does have them as a top 30 team. College basketball guru Ken Pomeroy currently has Notre Dame rated as the equivalent of a bubble team. Note that both of those are adjusted off weekend performances…when Syracuse lost at Pittsburgh (a team the computers love) while Notre Dame had to go overtime to beat lowly DePaul.
COMPUTER STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE RANKINGS
Notre Dame: #92 with Sagarin, #129 with Pomeroy
Syracuse: #51 with Sagarin, #46 with Pomeroy
Here’s a closer look at the schedule strengths. Neither is particularly great, as both are known to give themselves tune-ups early on. Syracuse did give themselves a couple of challenges. The coaches figure that playing in the Big East is tough enough. We’d argue that one reason Notre Dame has done so poorly compared to its Dance seedings is that they’re just not battle-tested enough.
WON-LOST RECORDS VS. SAGARIN’S TOP 50
Notre Dame: 3-2
The Orange took their first loss in this category Saturday. To its credit, Notre Dame has held its own so far, but they would fall to 50/50 with a loss Monday night in the dome. If you’re 50/50 against caliber teams heading into the Dance…you’re not likely to make a deep run.
JOE LUNARDI’S BRACKETOLOGY
Notre Dame: projected #8 seed
Syracuse: projected #2 seed
It’s the time of year where we start paying attention to this, because we know the players themselves are paying attention to this! Syracuse knows they can’t afford a second loss in a row if they want to have an elite seed. This is a group of players that was thinking about a #1 after they knocked off Louisville. Subsequent losses to Villanova and Pitt may create a sense of urgency. Lunardi splits the difference between the computers, tempering Sagarin’s enthusiasm while not being as pessimistic as Pomeroy.
POMEROY’S ADJUSTED OFFENSE RANKINGS
Notre Dame: #10
We have two good offenses here, though we’re skeptical that Notre Dame will play to that ranking within a more challenging schedule. Pomeroy adjusts for tempo and schedule strengths…but it can be hard to truly capture how far borderline teams drop off when they have to play under pressure.
POMEROY’S ADJUSTED DEFENSE RANKINGS
Notre Dame: #177
This is the hidden issue that jumps up and bites Notre Dame at the worst possible time. They play slow games, which creates the illusion of strong defense because opponents aren’t lighting up the scoreboard. If you look at a per-possession, the Irish are VERY disappointing defensively by tournament standards. The Syracuse zone really does disrupt teams, allowing them to rank in the top 10 on this side of the ball once you adjust for tempo and opponents.
POMEROY’S ADJUSTED TEMPO RANKINGS
Notre Dame: #319
This is what we mean about Notre Dame playing slow. They’re one of the slowest, most deliberate teams in the entire sport. Think of Princeton 20 years ago. The media used to rave about Princeton’s fantastic defense based on the scoring stats. Then, in the Dance, you’d realize they couldn’t actually guard anybody. Holding the ball for a long time on offense creates the illusion of defense. The per-possession numbers show you that it’s an area of weakness for the Irish. Syracuse is better defensively than you realize because a fast pace can inflate the scoring totals in their games.
As we saw this past Saturday Night, the team that can enforce its preferred tempo on a game is likely to cover. Indiana created a frenzied atmosphere and Michigan had trouble keeping up. Even if the Wolverines trimmed a lead down, they got so tired doing it that the margin would blow back up again. Syracuse will try to push pace when they have the ball…but their zone defense should allow the Irish to be as deliberate as they wish.
It’s fun handicapping games like this that have so many different angles. It’s not quite a simple as “if Notre Dame makes their treys, they’ll cover…and if they make a lot of treys…they’ll win outright.” But, that is the essence of the game before other issues come into play. It’s very hard to see the Irish competing for the full 40 minutes if they’re not shooting well over the zone. But, if those shots are falling, a Syracuse team that’s taken some blows to their confidence may lose their edge.
JIM HURLEY knows how important Mondays are to your bankroll. He’s been studying the full card to find you the best betting options. Along with Notre Dame/Syracuse, NETWORK is also looking at:
Texas at West Virginia on ESPN
Oklahoma at Iowa State on ESPNU (nice sleeper!)
Seton Hall at Pittsburgh on ESPNU
Chicago at Indiana in the NBA (playoff preview?)
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