Welcome back to the Syracuse basketball roundtable! This week, the main focus is Duke (sorry, Wake) and the monster matchup between the Orange and Blue Devils on Saturday. While Duke started the year a bit slow, they've caught fire of late and this game could set the tone for the rest of the year in the ACC (and possibly further).
As is and will be the norm all season, we're chatting about Syracuse basketball, the ACC and anything else that might come up in the never-ending soap opera that is Jim Boeheim's Orange team. Join us below...
Duke looked pretty impressive against Pitt on Monday night...
Chris Daughtrey: Duke is Duke. As long as Mike Krzyzewski is coaching them, they'll never be totally bad. Yeah, they shot the lights out and won big in a place where most teams struggle to win at all. But here's what saw while watching that game. I saw Duke not being able to stop anyone from getting in the lane, which Syracuse has the players to exploit. I saw Andre Dawkins playing Robin to Jabari Parker's Batman, which Syracuse has the ability to counter. So, am I concerned about Duke? Of course, they're Duke. But not any more so now than I was before.
Matt McClusky: Did anyone question that Duke would eventually come around? I certainly never wondered about it. Two weeks ago Mike Krzyzewski said he hadn't been himself since his brother died, he also promised to change that and it looks like he has. The Devils won at the "Pete" in their first ever visit to the arena -- a place where Pitt has only lost 23 times since it opened about a decade ago. That's impressive.
Jared Smith: They did. Recently, the Blue Devils are playing pretty solid defense, rebounded well and are shooting the ball well from the outside. With that said, I was a little disappointed how Pitt basically no-showed in that game. Way too many times a Duke shooter had a wide-open 3-point look or a Panthers player had a lack of hustle. It was a very un-Jamie Dixon-like performance from Pitt (which maybe stemmed from them being a be star struck?) and the Blue Devils took advantage.
Dan Lyons: Reports of Duke's death were greatly exaggerated. They're young, and they hit a rough patch, but the Blue Devils are one of the most talented teams in the nation. I have no doubts that at the end of the season, they'll be a factor. Saturday won't be easy by any means.
Sean Keeley: Look, throw out the record on Duke. They're legit. We've been fortunate enough to not have huge growing pains like they have but they're starting to figure themselves out and that's dangerous news for us and the rest of the ACC. We might be in the first place but you don't win the ACC without beating Duke.
What's the biggest key to beating the Blue Devils on Saturday?
CD: Pretty much said it in my answer to the previous question. First, attack the lane. Duke's perimeter defense is a sieve and the interior defense is soft. Syracuse should be able to get good shots in the lane all day. Two, don't let multiple Blue Devils beat them. Syracuse can weather Jabari Parker dropping 20+ or Dawkins hitting 6,7,8 threes... but not both.
MM: I'll go with the wing players on defense. It always seems like Syracuse's rotation on defense, players closing out on open shooters, never gets the proper credit. Even undersized, I've felt that Trevor Cooney and Tyler Ennis have been great at adjusting and recovering, getting a hand up in front of an open shooter. Duke will most certainly challenge those two along with C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant down on the baseline, too.
JS: The biggest key is not allowing Duke shooters wide-open 3-point looks. That is what killed Pitt and we all know that is the big-thing in beating the 2-3 zone defense. Syracuse needs to close-out on the shooters and rebound on the defensive glass. They do that and things should fall into place.
DL: Close out on shooters. Duke's top five scorers are all hitting at least 34.7% of their threes, which is a pretty crazy number. If they start bombing away, it
SK: We have to shut down their shooters, or at least create mismatches and issues for them when they're taking shots from three-point range. If they shoot like they did against Pitt, not sure there's much else we can do.
Which Orange player needs to step up the most over the course of the rest of the season?
CD: My first instinct is to say Rakeem Christmas, but he's been really solid lately and don't want to see him start pressing and undo the good will he's built up the last few games. So, I'm going to cheat and pick two: Gbinije and Roberson. With Jerami Grant now starting, Syracuse has pretty much no offensive punch coming off the bench. One of those guys needs to step up and show he can consistently put some points on the board.
MM: How about continuing to step up? Because I think we're seeing Rakeem Christmas start to evolve into a legit offensive presence for the Orange. There's still a lot of work to do, but Christmas, especially with DaJuan Coleman out for the season, needs to keep up his pronounced aggression - a byproduct, I'm sure of the you-first attitude of Tyler Ennis.
JS: I will do you something better: The player that WILL step up in this game will be Rakeem Christmas. For the past few weeks we have seen flashes of a developing offensive game from Rak and a bit more pep in his defensive step because of it. Duke doesn't have a player that can match-up with Christmas inside, so if he can get a couple baby hooks to fall early and Duke needs to pay attention to him a tad more it will open things up for Trevor Cooney, and when Cooney is rolling Syracuse offense is one of the best in the nation. I just have a really good feeling about that match-up after watching a lot of Duke hoops this season
DL: We could definitely use more efforts from Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita like what they gave Syracuse against Wake Forest last night. While fouls were an issue, the two combined for double digit points, rebounds, and eight blocks. There's not much more that you can ask of that duo.
SK: Trevor Cooney needs to find his touch and just become reliable. I don't need him to score 20 points a game. I don't need him to shoot 50% from three. I just need him to be a dependable shooter and not a liability. I don't ask for much.
Does this year represent a turning point for the ACC regarding zone defenses?
CD: Probably not. I mean, it's not like Miami is setting the league on fire because they switched to zone. I think the switch to more zone in the ACC is a product of teams not being as good as they thought they were, and tinkering to find ways to manufacture wins. It works for Syracuse, so they think they can replicate that success. So far, they've mostly been wrong.
MM: It's been a reform coming for years. College basketball, kids, used to be played in the 80s and maybe even 90s. But offenses aren't what they used to be (players leaving early, more competition in recruiting, etc) so a defense that theoretically calls for teams to shoot more than drive to the rim is the right call. Couple in new defensive rules and I think the ACC is a lot like the rest of the college world: waking up to the genius of Jim Boeheim.
JS: It is not just the ACC. The nation is playing more and more defensive, so lets not think this is special just to our new league. A Wall Street Journal piece in early December said college hoops teams are playing zone defense in 21.6% of its possessions, a rise from 15.6% last season. It looks like Jim Boeheim was onto something.
DL: I think the country at large is embracing the zone more, and Syracuse's success in recent years is a huge reason. Now, few schools have recruited exclusively for the zone, and it takes years to master, so I don't think many will do it as well as SU, but it has to be sort of flattering for Boeheim that his signature defense is a new trend.
SK: Who knows. We'll find out in a couple years when a bunch of teams are still playing zone of if they've all abandoned it for the next big thing. Here's what I do know…Syracuse will be playing zone defense.
If not a statue, what should Syracuse build/do in Jim Boeheim's honor?
CD: For all the talk about Hoffman's being a CNY staple and Jim B's investment in the company, why isn't there a super-annoying branded Hoffman's in the Dome? Hell of a missed marketing opportunity.
MM: End all post-game press conferences, forever.
JS: Turn Manley Field House into a eat-in restaurant called Jimmy B's: Syracuse's 24-Hour Hoop Haven. Served there would a menu designed by Boeheim and all around the place would be pictures of Boeheim's crazy faces, best quotes and the background music would be audio of his best press conferences. (SO MANY HITS!) For lunch and Happy Hour nothing but Classic Syracuse basketball games would be played on a loop on the TVs, while at dinner and late-night it is nothing but college hoops games and the occasional NBA game. (NO YOU CAN'T CHANGE THE CHANNEL TO WATCH FOOTBALL!!! Well, unless the Orange are playing.) The menu would be made-up of Boeheim's favorite meals throughout the world with a splash of the Syracuse community. Once in awhile the coach would come into the place to tell stories of how much of a dick John Thompson really was or how much of a disloyal idiot Andy Katz is. Good times would be had by all at Jimmy B's. I just know it.
DL: A chain of suitable Italian restaurants in every major college basketball town in the nation.
SK: The retractable roof of the new arena should be opened and closed by a giant "finger" that "picks" it into place.