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Syracuse men’s basketball vs. Notre Dame preview: 5 things to watch for

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Orange vs. Irish kicks off 2020 for ‘Cuse basketball

Syracuse v Notre Dame Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

A new year brings with it new opportunities for the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team. With the non-conference schedule now in the rear view, the Orange gear up for their first of many ACC tests over the next two months.

Notre Dame comes into this game with a 9-4 record and a bunch of unknowns. They’re 0-2 in the ACC against North Carolina and Boston College. UNC still had Cole Anthony at the time, but Boston College will most likely end up a pretty bad loss.

So who really is this Notre Dame team, and can Syracuse basketball open the new year with an ACC victory? Let’s get some insight by taking a look at the 5 keys to watch for during the game.

Buffalo v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

1. Create havoc in the zone

I think we all know that our zone defense just isn’t that great this year. We’ve got two guards who hustle like heck, but are often beat off the dribble, and a back line thinner than a Stephen King novel... wait. You get the point.

So if we can’t beat em physically, we absolutely have to out-hustle them. We need to win the lion’s share of the 50/50 balls. The margin for error is razor thin. If they want to compete in the ACC, the zone needs to be frenetic.

Hands always up. It’s almost like a dance when executed well. And though this team may never get there, the energy needs to for them to be successful.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 21 North Florida at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2. Crash the glass

Let’s face it. This team is going to get out-rebounded. We’re -69 in our five losses. The ACC won’t get any smaller.

We are going to need to be better on the glass to win. If we can keep the rebounding stats within five rebounds at all times, that’s often a “losing the battle, winning the war” type of situation.

Syracuse basketball will be successful against Notre Dame if they can at least keep the margin close, and keep John Mooney off the offensive glass.

3. Just keep passing

Syracuse is tied for 9th in the country in assists at 17.5 per game. That’s pretty impressive when you consider the Orange only average 73.5 points per game, 156th in division one.

This Syracuse basketball team is incredibly unselfish, and it’s going to be even more important as a point of emphasis moving forward. We need everyone in the game to be looking to find the open man. Every possession is essential for this group, so looking for the best shot on every possession is of paramount importance.

Niagara v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

4. Run the offense through Elijah

Elijah Hughes has been sensational so far this season. His 19.8 points per game are second in the ACC behind only Jordan Nwora. He’s also averaging 4.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, while contributing 1.3 blocks and hitting just a hair over 41% of his threes.

And where he’s been most effective lately is when he gets the ball in the middle of the zone or at the top of the key. In either position, he is almost always a mismatch for his defender. If he has a smaller defender, he’ll post up or shoot right over them. For taller defenders, he’ll blow by, pump fake, or step back.

His passing has also improved, and he is incredibly unselfish with the ball. Basically, this offense is humming when Elijah is at the helm. We just need a solid 40 minutes of that every night to win. Is that asking too much??

Niagara v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

5. Do-it-all Dolezaj

Let’s not forget the other hero of recent games, Marek Dolezaj. Dolezaj has come on strong the last five games and has started to emerge as the third scoring threat behind Elijah and Buddy Boeheim. That might change if Joe Girard finds his shot, but for the moment Marek seems poised to increase his role on offense.

On defense, Marek is his usual feisty self. He’s a constant pest to anyone with the ball or anyone who invades his space. He tips rebounds, alters shots, gets his hands in passing lanes, and most importantly, hustles after every single loose ball and missed shot.

Unfortunately, it’s sometimes to his detriment. No one gets called for more silly fouls than Dolezaj, and if Syracuse wants to stay in games this year, Marek needs to play aggressive, but play smart. No more silly over the back or frustration fouls. Marek needs to do-it-all, but under control.

If he can get there, great things will happen for him and this team. Let’s hope those great things start on Saturday with a win over Notre Dame!