December 8, 2010 8:15 AM
The Big East has seven unbeaten teams and two of them get the ESPN stage, between last night and tonight. Syracuse pushed its record to 9-0 yesterday with a win a decisive 72-58 win over Michigan State in Madison Square Garden. The Orange are putting together a team very similar to what Jim Boeheim had last year, as they hit the boards hard and overcame some inconsistency in the backcourt to win the Big East and get a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The frontcourt, even without Wesley Johnson, is strong and physical again. Rick Jackson is averaging twelve rebounds a game and Kris Joseph is a solid low post presence. Without Johnson and Arinze Onauku, the frontline isn't as deep as it was last season, but it's good enough to compete and win in a notoriously physical league. The backcourt is led up by Scoop Jardine, who's averaging six assists a game. Scoring from outside is the area Boeheim is going to have to figure out if he wants another conference title. Brandon Triche was inconsistent last year and is only shooting 37 percent from the floor. To take the next step, the 'Cuse needs to find some way of preventing defenses from collapsing down on the blocks. Boeheim gets a three weeks to figure it out, because he won't have another significant challenge until Big East play begins on December 28. For now, it's been a productive pre-conference, with wins over Michigan, Georgia Tech and N.C. State joining last night's triumph.
Notre Dame is faced with a similar challenge as they get set to take the floor in Kentucky tonight. The Irish have a tremendous frontcourt, with their top four players all being forwards and all solid rebounders. Ben Hansbrough, Tim Abromaitis, Tyrone Nash and Carleton Scott all hit the glass and all score in double digits. This alone is going to keep Mike Brey's team at or near the top of the Big East standings. The backcourt challenge here comes down to experience--they have freshman Eric Atkins running the show. While freshman leading the way to a title has become more common in recent years, with one-and-dones, and early departures reducing experience across the board, it's still not the preferred way of doing it. Notre Dame has never won a championship, either regular season or tournament, since joining the Big East, and if Atkins is up to the task, this team looks like one that may have a shot. It will be interesting to see how they handle the road in Rupp Arena tonight.
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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.