‘Cuse Countdown Analysts Preview Syracuse Basketball’s Matchup with Duke
Syracuse’s run from the First Four to the Sweet 16 sees the Orange taking on an ACC opponent for a spot in the Elite Eight. While Syracuse lost its first matchup with Duke this season, the ‘Cuse Countdown analysts know exactly what Syracuse needs to do to get the better of the Blue Devils.
Key to the Game: Win the Game of Zones
The big topic of conversation coming into this game is the matchup between two teams who both run the 2-3 zone on defense. Duke’s zone got the best of Syracuse back in February, holding the Orange to just 44 points. Though the Orange lost that game, it did hold Duke to just 11 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Syracuse’s zone has held all three of its NCAA tourney opponents to under 60 points, and all of those teams averaged 80 or more points per game. If the Orange can limit Duke’s ability to get the ball down low to Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr., as well as contest most of the Blue Devils’ 3-point attempts, Syracuse should have more success in what should be a defensive dogfight.
Prediction: Duke 65-59
Syracuse has made it this far in the tournament with three ugly wins, but who said winning ever had to be pretty? This one has the potential to be the ugliest, most defensive game the Orange has played yet. The Blue Devils average 17.8 assists per game, which shows they have the ability to move the ball around the 2-3 zone and cause the Orange some fits. I thought Syracuse would fall to a top tier program in Michigan State last weekend, but I was wrong. The difference for this game is that Duke knows how the zone functions, which could be the Orange’s kryptonite.
Key to the Game: Guard Play
In order for Syracuse to win this game, Tyus Battle and Frank Howard need to show out. So far in the NCAA Tournament, the dynamic backcourt duo for Syracuse has averaged 23 points per game between them. During the regular season Battle and Howard averaged 34 points per game combined. If Syracuse is going to take down the Blue Devils this time around this duo will need to be effective and efficient.
Prediction: Syracuse 67-64
Yes, Duke is ranks in the top ten in the nation in points per game, assists per game, and rebounds per game. But this zone held that same Duke squad to the squad’s lowest output of the season. If the SU zone shows up once more, combined with a regression to the mean for the Orange guards, this team can make it to the Elite Eight. I expect Battle and Howard to come out guns blazing against Duke.
Key to the Game: Pressure Duke’s Guards
Despite an eventual 25-point loss, Rhode Island found success early versus Duke in the two teams’ Round of 32 matchup. Rams’ guards Andre Berry and Fatts Russell pestered the Blue Devils’ passers, denying entry feeds inside to Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. and forcing Duke to commit four turnovers over the first five minutes. If SU can keep the ball outside the paint and bother Duke ball-handlers, it has a chance to keep a potent Devils’ offense quiet.
Prediction: Duke 68-61
Syracuse’s run to the Sweet 16 has been impressive, but Duke’s depth makes it a tough matchup for SU. The balance of offensive from leadership (Grayson Allen) and lottery-pick talent (Marvin Bagley III), along with a mid-season switch to zone means Coach K’s team is poised for a chance at a national title. The Orange just doesn’t have the offensive firepower to match up with the Blue Devils.
Key to the Game: Eliminate Second Chance Opportunities
It’s no secret that Syracuse’s defense has carried the team on this unprecedented tournament run. After shutting down Miles Bridges and the Spartans last weekend, I expect the zone to again yield low shooting percentages from Duke. But I do see rebounding as the biggest flaw in the Orange’s scheme. ‘Cuse was manhandled on the boards against MSU, surrendering 29 offensive rebounds that lead to 21 second-chance opportunities. The Blue Devils are ninth best in the country in securing offensive rebounds. Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, Jr. are two of the most athletic big men in the country, so the Orange frontcourt will have their hands full. Syracuse is not going to win this game in shootout fashion, so limiting Duke to one shot per possession is imperative in slowing down the Blue Devil offense.
Prediction: Duke 65-58
It makes no sense that Syracuse is one of the final 16 teams alive in the chase for a national championship. Haters will say it’s fake. Dick Vitale will say “IT’S MARCH, BABY.” I say that it boils down to the fact that Syracuse’s three tournament opponents were ill-prepared for the knuckleball that is the 2-3 zone. Arizona State, TCU, and Michigan State had no more than 48 hours to even game plan for Boeheim’s signature defense, much less simulate it in practice. Hall of famer Mike Krzyzewski has been gameplanning for this zone about twice a year for the past five years. The close coaching relationship Boeheim and Krzyzewski share has been well-documented, but I think Coach K’s newfound knowledge of the intricacies of the zone, in addition to Duke’s offensive firepower, will end Syracuse’s tourney run.
Key to the Game: Milk The Clock
For the fourth straight tournament game, Syracuse is facing a team that averages more than 80 points per game on offense. That means SU needs to stick with the formula that got them here and limit Duke’s offensive possessions as much as possible. The only way the Orange wins this game is if it’s another ugly rock fight in the 50-55 point range. With that in mind, Syracuse must slow the tempo of the game down. Use plenty of shot clock on each offensive trip and limit turnovers that would lead to fast break buckets for the Blue Devils. If Syracuse can make this another ugly low-scoring game it just might have a shot.
Prediction: Duke 58-52
Who knows what to think of this team anymore? I mean it still makes no sense that SU got by Michigan State despite giving up 29 offensive rebounds and dealing with all that foul trouble. Now, Syracuse gets a Duke team that is probably even more talented. Once again, all logic says Duke crushes Syracuse like it did in February and SU’s run comes to a screeching halt. But, the Orange defied logic last week and my gut tells me this team isn’t going down without a fight. However, I still have to give the slight edge to the team I think could very well go on to win the national title.
Key to the Game: Don’t Let Bagley and Carter Finish at the Rim
As much as the Syracuse offense needs to improve on its first performance against Duke, it will all be for not if the Orange doesn’t have a better defensive game. Marvin Bagley III finished 8-for-9 from the field and Wendell Carter finished with 16 points. Their efficiency was the only part of the Blue Devils offense that kept them afloat above SU. What Syracuse learned in its first three NCAA Tournament games was how to win games purely off defense and use just enough offense to get by. The Orange’s only chance at keeping this game close runs through the ‘Cuse’s ability to contain Bagley and Carter.
Prediction: Duke 64-54
The March magic will run out for Syracuse against Duke. Not only have the Blue Devils already proven they can beat the Orange’s vaunted zone, but with a full week of preparation, Coach K should have Duke running even more efficiently. The Blue Devils are the rare team who are a bad matchup for the Orange when it comes to size. Duke’s two big men are a matchup nightmare for SU, and make the Blue Devils primed to beat the Orange at its own game with their zone. Syracuse has not beaten Duke in the NCAA Tournament in two tries, and they won’t in try number three.
Key to the Game: Stay Away from Ticky-Tacky Fouls
In Syracuse’s Round of 32 win against Michigan State last Sunday, both Paschal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibe committed three fouls in a combined 18 minutes of first half play. Teammate Frank Howard picked up his fourth and fifth personals just nine seconds apart late in the contest. For SU to even compete against a Duke squad that severely possesses more talent, the five best Orange players must stay on the 94×50 for a full 40. The Blue Devils’ have two mammoths down low in Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter, both of whom are terrific at timing their jumps following missed shots and navigating the painted area. Jim Boeheim’s bunch may need to utilize its available fouls for stopping the freshmen tandem close to the basket, and not wasting them out on the perimeter or on the offensive glass.
Prediction: Duke 63-53
Mike Krzyzewski committed to playing zone defense full-time beginning in mid-February against Clemson, and since then, the Blue Devils haven’t surrendered 80 points in any contest. Even though Coach K’s recreation of Boeheim’s signature 2-3 isn’t as effective, Duke plays enough defense to sneak past teams loaded with offensive weaponry. Syracuse doesn’t fit the description of a tough team to guard, so the only way the ‘Cuse rattles off four wins in a row is if the Blue Devils simply can’t fit the cookie in the cookie jar. Talent, familiarity, and a full week to prepare should be enough for Krzyzewski to move one game closer to a record-setting 13th Final Four appearance.
Key to the Game: Battle of the Zones
Earlier this season, Duke’s high-powered offense could not be stopped. The only issue for the Blue Devils? They couldn’t stop anyone in man-to-man. Coach Mike Krzyzewski shifted to a version of Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone and the team has adapted the zone as it’s main defense, playing it 80 percent of the time during their season. The difference between the two zones? Duke’s zone prioritizes physical defense on the inside, sacrificing some open looks on the perimeter. Syracuse’s zone does a better job of defending the three by switching more often in what essentially is a one-in, four-out zone look. The difference in the game will be which zone can more effectively hide its weaknesses and convert on open looks. For SU, that means knocking down open jump shots and defending the low block against Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter, two of the most talented forwards in the country.
Prediction: Duke 70-68
SU’s improvement in consistency on offense gives the Orange hope. If Oshae Brissett can continue his outstanding play, this should be a drastically different game than the first go-around when the Canadian couldn’t find his stroke from deep. Additionally, Duke has a historically young team, ranking 350th out of 351 NCAA teams. In the past, young teams tend to struggle the further they get into March Madness, and a lack of poise could a huge role down the stretch of a close game in ‘Cuse’s favor. However, Duke’s starting rotation features three, maybe four first round NBA players. That talent and skill, I think, will be the difference for the Blue Devils on the way to a Final Four berth.