Say what you want about the lack of history in the budding rivalry between the Syracuse Orange and Duke Blue Devils but you can't deny the fan interest in these games. For the second-consecutive season, Syracuse fans will sell out the Carrier Dome and pack it to capacity. Can the Orange also repeat last season's outcome and come away with a win?
Let's see what the TNIAAM crew thinks.
Duke 78 - Syracuse 66
The game should be fun, at least portions of it, if only for the typical build up and hype (along with the highlights shown of last year's battle). But I am really excited to see Rakeem Christmas go at it against Jahlil Okafor. No matter what happens, Okafor will be a top pick in June's NBA Draft, but for Christmas, this game really means so much more. Christmas won't get the March coverage that EVERYONE else will. And even with SU having big games ahead, including at Duke, this one with the Devils will likely generate the most hype and buzz left in the Orange big man's career. Saturday is the ACC tourney, the NCAA tourney and the Final Four all rolled up into one. If Christmas has an off game, it won't mean the end of the world, but if he goes for 20-plus and 10 to 12 boards? That'll leave a lasting impression long after the season ends at N.C. State. Okafor will be drafted higher regardless, but Christmas could put the icing on a first-round-draft-pick cake. Those two matching up should be worth the price of admission alone. And hopefully Christmas plays the way we've all come to know he can.
Syracuse 78 - Duke 75
I won't pretend like I have legitimate reason to believe that Syracuse can actually win this game. More than anything else, it's a gut feeling. I'm oddly optimistic about the Orange's chances. Maybe that's because this has been a pretty cruddy year (from an athletics standpoint) to be an SU freshman, and I just believe that SOMETHING has to go right. But tomorrow's game is also, in a way, this team's National Championship. Especially for a guy like Rakeem Christmas, this is it. And while Duke is still fighting to get a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament, Syracuse has nothing to lose. Even in front of 35,000+ fans, I don't expect that the SU players will be feeling much pressure. Few people expect them to win, and given the postseason ban, nobody will be too bummed if they don't. That works in the favor of the Orange, who could be saving their best game of the 2014-15 season for their biggest game. But, then again, I'm probably just crazy.
Duke 77 - Syracuse 70
I don't expect this to be the type of blowout that a lot of people are projecting. Syracuse has been playing much better of late and even in recent losses (Pittsburgh and North Carolina), the offense has functioned pretty well. Gbinije's averaged almost 20 points per game over the last four and wouldn't it be poetic for him to put on another show against his former team? But in the end, Duke is, well, Duke. And even though Syracuse tries to slow it down, there's just not enough offense to match the Blue Devils.
Duke 82 - Syracuse 77
This is definitely going to be the biggest game of the year for Syracuse. The Orange will likely feed off of the energy of yet another sell-out crowd. This time around, though, the Orange are a very different team, while Duke is Duke (aka very good). I think it will be a closer game than people think, but Jahlil Okafor, Quinn Cook, and the rest will be too much for Syracuse to handle. That's not to say it won't be a fun game to watch, though! I expect "Silent G" to continue his rise, becoming a true weapon on offense, and for Rakeem Christmas to make his presence known, as he was pretty much a non-factor against BC on Wednesday.
Syracuse 81 - Duke 79
Don't look now, but Syracuse has actually gotten pretty good at scoring lately, with four straight games with at least 70 points. This is the biggest game of the season for this team and I think they come out firing on all cylinders. They seriously have absolutely nothing to lose, so I think the usual nerves from a game like this may not apply for once. Mark me down for a game-winning Gbinije three at the buzzer to beat his former team and cement this as the best active rivalry for the Orange.
Duke 84 - Syracuse 79
I think this game ends up a lot like the UNC game where Syracuse is able to match a ranked opponent point for point, but ultimately runs out of steam at the end. I'm expecting a very big statement game from Rakim Christmas as I think he will match Okafor and keep the Orange in the game. This also sets up to be another of those games where it's decided by each team's 4th or 5th option and Duke is just a bit more talented this year. If Syracuse wants to pull off a sweetheart of an upset it will need to get another big game from Kaleb Joseph and either Tyler Roberson or BJ Johnson.
Duke 76 - Syracuse 70
Damn, do I want to pick Syracuse to win this game. Nothing to lose for them, plus everything to lose for Duke -- this has all the makings of a meaningless upset fitting of the Orange when they're less-than-elite. Most will key into the matchup between Okafor and Christmas, but that's too simple. The SU center is a much more well-rounded player and takes that head-to-head. The important thing, instead, is how well the Blue Devils' other players can penetrate the zone. While we may be able to keep them in check for a half, I just don't think SU's short bench can hang with a faster-paced Duke team for a full 40 minutes. The Orange lose -- but not by a lot.
Syracuse 71 - Duke 69
On one hand, we really shouldn't read into the Boston College win too much. It felt like a real anomaly, especially considering Rakeem Christmas played one of the worst games of his season. Plus, you know, it's Boston College. This is Duke. On the other hand, the Blue Devils aren't invincible and they're coming into what's sure to be a hostile environment. If you're asking me to put money down, I'd have to put it in Duke. They're more talented. But if you're asking me to take into account the way Syracuse seems to be getting it together, Christmas's presumptive rebound performance and playing in front of a packed Dome, I can see Syracuse finding a way to steal this one.
How about you?