How quickly things change in the Big East. Just a couple weeks ago Syracuse and Louisville seemed nearly untouchable atop the conference basketball standings, while Notre Dame was mired in a slump that saw them lose three of four games in mid-January. Things are a bit different now as the Fighting Irish get set to play the Orangemen in Syracuse on Monday night.
Syracuse (18-3, 6-2 Big East) won its first six Big East Conference games this season, before stumbling twice on the road this week. Included in that 6-0 start to league play was a 70-68 buzzer-beating win over then consensus number one Louisville back on Jan. 19. That did not help the Orangemen last week though in respective 72-61 and 65-55 losses at Villanova and Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame (18-4, 6-3) has rattled-off three consecutive victories since that 1-3 slump that included losses to Connecticut, St. John's and Georgetown. Louisville has also fallen on hard times, with losses to Georgetown and Villanova that followed the close defeat to Syracuse. Louisville ended the three-game losing streak that began after vaulting to No. 1 in the national polls and has a Sunday matchup set with surprise Big East front-runner Marquette (15-4, 6-1).
The topsy turvy recent chain of events has Syracuse in second place behind Marquette. Notre Dame is currently tied for third place in the Big East standings along with Cincinnati and Georgetown, with Louisville in the middle of the conference pack in sixth place - just ahead of Pittsburgh and St. John's.
Syracuse is without the services of freshman DaJuan Coleman heading into Monday's game. Coleman started the first 20 games of the season, but was out of the lineup for the first time in Saturday's loss to the Panthers after undergoing knee surgery late in the week. Germani Grant, the younger brother of Notre Dame junior Jerian Grant, made his first start of the season on Saturday in Coleman's absence.
The rest of the Syracuse starting five has remained constant all season. Guards Brandon Triche (14.9 points, 31 three-pointers) and Michael Carter-Williams (12.6 points, 8.6 assists) and forwards C.J. Fair (13.7 points, 7.0 rebounds) and Rakeem Christmas (6.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 43 blocks) have all started all 21 games in 2012-2013 for the Orangemen.
Syracuse was outrebounded 39-24 by the Panthers. Pitt held just a slight 32-26 advantage in scoring in the paint, but the biggest difference in the 10-point Orangemen loss was Pittsburgh's 31-3 scoring advantage off the bench. Pittsburgh's Tray Woodall was the only Panther in double-figure scoring, but five reserves scored 8, 7, 6, 6, and 4 points each.
Notre Dame got solid bench production in Saturday's 79-71 overtime win at DePaul. The Irish bench outscored the Blue Demons' 13-9, but all 13 of those points came in the game's first 20 minutes and they came from just two players - Cameron Biedscheid (7) and Zach Auguste (6).
Jack Cooley had another monster game for the Irish with 26 points and 16 rebounds. The big game came on the heels of a 17-point, 16-rebound performance in Wednesday's win over Villanova.
The Fighting Irish have gone 3-0 since senior Tom Knight joined the starting lineup with last weekend's win at South Florida. Knight was held out of double figures for the first time as a starter versus DePaul, but he still managed a solid six points and seven boards in the victory.
Cooley (15.0 points, 11.3 rebounds), Eric Atkins (11.8 points, 6.2 assists) and Pat Connaughton (9.0 points, 34 three-pointers) have started all 22 games this season, while Jerian Grant (12.6 points, 5.6 assists) has started all but one game.
Monday night's game tips-off at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.