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Syracuse women’s basketball: what to watch for vs. #7 Notre Dame

The Orange face its biggest test yet.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Syracuse at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team (13-4, 4-2) faces a daunting path to March with a brutal stretch of ACC opponents upcoming.

First up on the murderer’s row of quality competition is a home matchup Sunday afternoon against the #7 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (13-2, 4-1), the Orange’s second-ranked opponent of the season.

Syracuse enters the contest coming off three-straight victories against conference opposition, the last two of which were on the road. On the other hand, #7 Notre Dame is coming off a 41-point blowout win against Wake Forest, with the Fighting Irish’s lone conference loss to #22 North Carolina. Last season, Notre Dame finished 24-9 overall and 13-5 against the ACC, falling to NC State in the Sweet 16 of last year’s NCAA Tournament.

Tip-off is set for Sunday at 2 pm EST, with the game available for streaming on ESPN’s ACC Network.

Earlier this season, Syracuse nearly pulled off an upset against then-#6 NC State, only falling 56-54 in its debut against a ranked team. Can the Orange pull off an upset on its home turf in its second attempt at a ranked win?

Here’s what to watch for and everything you need to know heading into the contest between the Orange and the Eagles.

Question #1: Can the Orange attack Notre Dame’s only potential kryptonite?

Notre Dame (by far and away) ranks not only as the most challenging opponent so far this season for the Orange, but also the toughest opponent Syracuse will face all year. The Fighting Irish are at the top of almost every major statistical category. For context, ND ranks top-three in the ACC in points per game (2nd), field goal percentage (1st), opponent field goal percentage (2nd), total rebounds (1st), opponent rebounds (1st), assists (1st), and assist/turnover ratio (2nd). Gulp.

If there’s one area the Fighting Irish struggle in, its opponent three-point efficiency and generating turnovers. The only problem is that Syracuse statistically ranks as a poor outside shooting and passing team. If there’s one thing going for the Orange, its offense has been scorching hot lately against decent ACC competition, especially if Syracuse’s guard trio can get going early. Don’t underestimate the Orange’s ability to hold opponents to poor outside shooting either.

It’s an uphill battle, but there is hope for the ‘Cuse. But...

Question #2: How long can Syracuse keep the game interesting?

The NC State game was one thing, but Notre Dame is a completely different animal. The Fighting Irish enter this game with the 8th-best NCAA NET ranking in the country, including two victories against top-25 programs. And compared to the time the Orange faced the Wolfpack, the Fighting Irish have consistently been one of the five-to-ten-best teams in the NCAAW all season (and in dominant fashion too: ND ranks sixth in the nation in scoring margin, beating opponents by an average of 23.3 points per game).

What am I trying to get at? To be honest, Syracuse’s odds of winning this game are slim to none. But, even keeping things relatively close is a huge step in the right direction for a team that’s started off hot. If the Orange can stay competitive and not succumb to a huge scoring run by the Fighting Irish, that’s a win in this program’s book.

Question #3: If the team loses, how do the Orange bounce back?

On a similar note, here’s something to think about: Syracuse hasn’t been completely blown out in a game all season. Its four losses have all been by an average margin of 8.25 points, with three of those defeats coming against top-50 NET teams.

Keeping the game close is ideal. But if the Orange are outplayed right from tip-off and suffer a big loss, I’m interested to see how head coach Felisha Legette-Jack pushes her team to fight back, especially since ‘Cuse hasn’t suffered a big defeat all season through 17 games.

Win or lose, there will be a lot for Syracuse to learn from in this game as its season continues.

Syracuse versus Notre Dame preview by the numbers

All-time: The Orange are just 3-36 all-time versus the Fighting Irish dating back to 1988. Last season, Syracuse lost both its matchups to ND by an average of 23.5 points per game. But, all three of Syracuse’s wins against Notre Dame have been at home.

Last matchup: The Orange suffered an 83-62 road defeat against the Fighting Irish.

Win/loss implications: A victory gives Syracuse its first-ranked win over an AP top-25 team all season and pushes the Orange to 11-1 at home this season. A close loss would remind all of us that this team can compete against the best of the best in the ACC, while a blowout loss proves how ridiculously talented the best teams in the conference are this season.

Prediction: I’ll keep an open mind, but Notre Dame will have the statistical advantage and talent advantage, and that’s before getting into the historical success the Fighting Irish are against the Orange. With that said, I’ll say Syracuse can hold on in the first half but will succumb to Notre Dame’s elite offense. I think the Orange will fall 83-67 against the Fighting Irish.

Syracuse vs. Notre Dame Team Stats

Statistical Categories Syracuse Notre Dame
Statistical Categories Syracuse Notre Dame
PPG 77.9 81.9
Opponent PPG 65.5 58.7
Margin of Victory plus-12.4 plus-23.3
FG% 43% 49%
Defensive FG% 39% 35%
3FG% 30% 33%
Defensive 3FG% 26% 29%
FT% 72% 74%
RPG 43.9 45.6
APG 14.1 18.1
T/O 15.8 16.2
A/T ratio 0.9 1.1
SPG 10.9 8.5
BPG 4.3 5.5