Notre Dame men's basketball seniors overdue to deliver against Syracuse

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

A bunch of important boxes already have been checked as Notre Dame seniors V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia move toward the back end of their collegiate careers.

Become main guys? Vasturia has made 100 consecutive starts since his sophomore season. Beachem has started every game (59) the last two years. Beachem has logged over 2,400 career minutes, Vasturia over 3,800. Both are averaging 33.1 this season.

Score? Vasturia became the 59th player in school history to hit for 1,000 in his career earlier this season. Beachem will be the 60th. He’s 43 shy.

Succeed for the first time in school history at Duke and North Carolina? Done that.

Cut down the nets as Atlantic Coast Conference tournament champions? Yep.

Win? They’ve won 87 games and counting over four years.

Drive the Irish deep into the NCAA Tournament? Both have been key reasons why Notre Dame has won a combined six tournament games and advanced to the Elite Eight each of the las two seasons.

Beat Syracuse?

Hello?

Anyone?

Beachem and Vasturia are 0-3 in their careers against the ‘Cuse. That’s something they can solve Saturday when No. 15 Notre Dame (16-3; 5-1 ACC) returns to a sold-out Purcell Pavilion for the first time in two weeks to host Syracuse (11-8; 3-3). The Irish had their seven-game overall win streak, and five in a row in league play, snapped Wednesday at No. 10 Florida State.

Time to get back on the winning track. Bounce-back time for a group that still believes it’s special.

“We’re right there as far as being one of the best teams in the country,” Beachem said of a squad whose three losses all have been to ranked teams. “I love where we’re at, but we still have so much more to do.”

Like beating Syracuse. Both seniors know there’s still a zero next to Syracuse in their career win column.

“Yeah, it’s kind of weird,” Beachem said.

Weird would describe the way Notre Dame has played against Syracuse the last three seasons. The three games have been decided by an average of 8.6 points, but no games were really that close.

Three years ago when Syracuse was the No. 1 team in the nation and rolling, the Irish were limping toward a 15-17 season. Syracuse led by as many as 14 in a six-point win.

Two years ago in South Bend, a season in which Notre Dame won the ACC postseason tournament and got to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1979, the Irish trailed by as many as 10, shot 34.7 percent from the field and 13.6 percent from 3 in a five-point loss.

Afterward, Irish coach Mike Brey insisted his team didn’t suffer from paralysis by analysis. Months later, Brey admitted that yeah, point guard Jerian Grant was too spooked just by thought of the zone to let it rip. His teammates followed his lead. To nowhere.

A year ago in Central New York with guard Demetrius Jackson sidelined by a hamstring injury, the Irish trailed by as many as 24 in a 15-point loss.

Syracuse has won the last four and seven of eight in the series. The lone win occurred exactly five years ago Saturday – Jan. 21, 2012 – when the Orange arrived ranked No. 1 and left with a 67-58 loss.

Notre Dame is averaging 81.1 points, but hasn’t hit for at least 80 against Syracuse since getting 87 in a seven-point loss way back in 2008.

Thoughts of the Gerry McNamaras and Hakim Warricks and Orange zones of seasons past still haunt the Irish. Working against the zone often leaves Notre Dame in a zone where everything – cutting, passing, shooting, scoring, playing – is decidedly more difficult.

“We’ve just got to put ourselves in good position against the zone; that’s what they do and they’re very good at it,” Vasturia said. “They do a good job of being long and making it difficult for us.”

This has not been the typical Syracuse defense. The zone’s been better of late, but was such a concern at times earlier this season that coach Jim Boeheim has occasionally scrapped it in favor of man-to-man.

Still, the Irish have to flow. Stand around and simply toss the ball from side to side, regardless of what defense they have to decipher, and there will be issues.

Guard Matt Farrell has to keep playing with his attack first, second and third mindset. Beachem and Vasturia can’t be afraid to drive it and challenge defenders at the rim. Bonzie Colson must be a good decision-maker at the top of the zone, while power forward Martinas Geben has to maximize any short-corner opportunities that arise. This might be a day for sophomore Matt Ryan to get going with a few 3s over the top of the zone.

Saturday isn’t about getting a win for the senior captains as it is about getting back to Irish basketball – sharing it, protecting it, scoring it. Notre Dame has to keep moving it and keep moving.

“Just passing it around the perimeter, you get stagnant and they’re going to be able to defend you easily,” Vasturia said. “We’re confident in the shot-makers on this team.”

Those shot-makers delivered 15 3-pointers Wednesday. That included Beachem, who broke loose for 14 points on 4-of-5 from 3 after going a combined 7-for-24 in his first five league games. He returns home confident again in his game.

“It was a great feeling to get it going,” he said. “Hopefully I can keep it going.”

Checking another box beckons.

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI

Notre Dame seniors V.J. Beachem, left, and Steve Vasturia hare 0-3 in their collegiate careers against Syracuse, something they can change Saturday at Purcell Pavilion. (AP Photo/WILFREDO LEE)

WHO: No. 15 Notre Dame (16-3; 5-1 ACC) vs. Syracuse (11-8; 3-3).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).

WHEN: Saturday at noon.

TICKETS: None. The game is a sellout.

TV: ESPN.

RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM).

ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com@tnoieNDI.

NOTING: Tyler Lydon scored 26 points on 11-of-14 from the floor and Andrew White III added 15 points in Syracuse's 85-69 loss Monday to No. 9 North Carolina. Point guard Tyus Battle had 13 points and a career-high four steals. … Syracuse is 0-3 on the road in league play, also with losses at Boston College and Virginia Tech. The Orange also have lost a non-league game at Wisconsin. … Syracuse was picked in preseason to finish fifth in the ACC. … Two starters return off last season’s team that finished 23-14, 9-9 and tied for ninth in the ACC. The Orange went to the Final Four for the second time in four years. … After fielding only one lineup all last year, Syracuse has had five this season. … The Orange were ranked for the first four weeks of the regular season and got to as high as No. 16 in the Associated Press poll. … Syracuse is ranked 10th in the league in scoring offense (75.9), fifth in scoring defense (67.0). The Orange are ranked 11th in free throw shooting in overall games at 69.1 percent, but first in ACC games at 81.9. They rank 13th in rebounding margin (-0.6), third in blocked shots (5.47), third in assists (16.8), first in steals (8.3) and third in assist/turnover (1.40). … White leads the league in 3-pointers made per game at 3.11 per game. … Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is in his 41st season at his alma mater. He’s 895-350. … Today’s game features the top two teams in league play for assist/turnover ratio. Syracuse is No. 1 at 1.32, Notre Dame at No. 2 at 1.31. … Today’s game ends a stretch of three of four on the road for Syracuse. … Notre Dame plays three of its next four league games at home. This is the first Irish home game since a Jan. 7 victory over Clemson. … Syracuse leads the all-time series 28-19 and has won the last four and seven of eight. … Notre Dame is 0-3 against Syracuse as ACC colleagues.

QUOTING: “After a loss, everybody’s mentality is we want to go win again. It’s nice to be able to play soon. It’s great to come back home and play.”

• Notre Dame senior captain Steve Vasturia.