Even though Poe was lementing the bleak December that stole his lost love 'Lenore,' the former resident of Maryland's best city for being brutally murdered - Baltimore - provides, through the haunting stanza above, the perfect backdrop to Syracuse's nightmarish upcoming hoops schedule.
"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil!
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted -
On this home by Horror haunted - tell me truly, I implore -
Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!"
Quoth the raven, "Nevermore."
- Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven
Over the next 12 anxious days and sleepless nights, the Orange will face five teams with an RPI rating of 91 or better. Four of those five teams are within the index's top 41, and of this subgroup, three are safely residing inside the top 15. Moreover, Syracuse has the luxury and good fortune of facing four of these five upcoming opponents in a venue not named "Carrier Dome."
Still not sufficiently tormented? Well, try this on for size.
Syracuse, according to uber genius Ken Pomeroy, is favored in only one of these contests - the home game on January 16th against Connecticut. And even for that one, Syracuse has only a 57% chance of victory. Every other game in this stretch sees the Orange as a decided underdog, with Syracuse's best chance for victory coming against Notre Dame on Wednesday (42% chance of victory) and its best chance at receiving a world-class beatdown coming against newly-defeated Villanova on January 21st (12% chance of victory).
With the introduction out of the way, let's get into some meat and potato stuff. Snippets will appear as games grow nearer, or until I feel like writing them.
Notre Dame - January 11th (South Bend, IN)
Think Iowa State on Sudafed. That's the Irish this year.
The Irish have been quietly flying under the radar for the early part of this season. With a 9-4 record punctuated by a loss to woeful DePaul, the Irish have hardly provided reason to turn a curious eye. However, records can be deceiving and there is much more substance to this group of ballers than their early season resume indicates.
As it stands right now, Notre Dame is 64th in Ken Pomeroy's power ratings and maintains the number 91 position in the RPI. Just last week Mike Brey's group pushed around a pretty good Pittsburgh team in the Petersen Events Center while establishing that they can, on any given night, shoot the lights out from the floor.
Moreover, when you start examining the numbers, Notre Dame seems to provide even more fits for a Syracuse club that has consistency serve as its kryptonite. Averaging only about 68 possessions per game, Notre Dame likes to slow the pace of play, putting the onus on their opponent to score efficiently. With an offense generating about 110.3 points per 100 possessions and a defense yielding around 95, Mike Brey has armed Notre Dame with enough strategy and production to win if their opponent does not come into the Joyce Center prepared to play.
What really scares me about Notre Dame isn't the pace of play but rather the Irish's style of play. Notre Dame gets 34.9 percent of their offense from behind the three-point arc. Given the fact that Syracuse yields to their opponent about 30.8 percent of their offense from beyond 19 feet, Syracuse could get down early if they give the Irish the same kind of looks from the outside they have allowed their 15 other opponents this season.
Additionally, one must consider the method of the Irish's attack. Mike Brey really tries to take the air out of the basketball on a nightly basis, and if the potent combination of Notre Dame getting hot from behind the arc and Gerry McNamara chewing up too much of the the Orange offense with a litany of poor shots occurs, Syracuse may not have enough possessions available to pull this game out.
Finally, if Syracuse plans to win, it's going to have to get there from the field, because the Irish are quite stingy in handing out their fouls. Currently, the Irish are 29th best in the country at limiting their opponents' trips to the charity stripe. As a consequence, only about 16% of a team's offense will come from a non-badgered scorer when the Irish serve as the opponent. When you realize that Syracuse has only generated a 51.5% effective field goal rate this season (89th best in the nation), and Notre Dame is only yielding a rate of 45.3 to its opponents, the fact that Syracuse will have to get all its points from the floor becomes even more startling.
The "Four Factors":
|Syracuse v. Notre Dame - Offensive|
|Syracuse v. Notre Dame - Defensive|