As Syracuse Orange fans, we regularly complain about the short bench typically employed by Jim Boeheim. Yes, the Hall of Fame coach knows exactly what he's doing and we (all) don't claim to know better than him. But the team's general exhaustion over the years has certainly caused some concern and consternation as well.
Syracuse's short, seven-man rotation? Meet the Duke Blue Devil's six-man rotation this year.
As the News & Observer's Laura Keeley details, a lot has changed for Duke since they lost Amile Jefferson to a broken foot. And it starts with a VERY short bench and a high-paced offense being forced to carry the load for a now-undermanned defense. Since losing the senior forward in mid-December, the Blue Devils are just 5-3, including two straight losses this past week. While Duke is still able to put the ball in the basket better than most (they're the second-highest scoring offense in the country), things have gotten much tougher on the other end of the floor. Duke has held overmatched opponents like Boston College, Virginia Tech and Elon to low point totals, sure. But Utah, Wake Forest and Notre Dame, particularly, have averaged more than 84 points against them. Notre Dame's huge 95 points on Saturday was the most against Duke by a long shot this year -- a very different story from last year's team that seemed to figure things out defensively right around NCAA Tournament time.
Syracuse, obviously, can relate. The offense has struggled all season, reliant on three-pointers to really get it going. But the real issue in SU's seven losses have been defensive lapses, especially in the middle as bigs Dajuan Coleman and Tyler Roberson fall into foul trouble. SU's own short rotation features just two real big men (the aforementioned DC and Roberson), plus Tyler Lydon, and that has led to a lot of holes near the basket. Opponents have taken advantage in Orange defeats too, both in the middle and from the perimeter. The one thing most of the those teams have had, however, is deeper benches than Syracuse. That won't be the case come tonight.
Duke, since losing Jefferson, is just six-deep, as mentioned earlier. And Marshall Plumlee is the only player that can really do much on the boards. The second-leading rebounder right now? Guard Brandon Ingram. There's an opportunity here for a longer Syracuse team that for once may actually have an advantage in the paint. Syracuse! An advantage! In the paint! And while Duke can and does run, there's still a shot for the 2-3 zone to wear them down a little bit, in theory, anyway.
None of this means Syracuse is able to handle the ranked Blue Devils with ease, mind you. But with the same short rest that SU has (just two days) and a two-game losing streak weighing on them, it's a formula that at least assists the Orange's chances down in Durham. As a reminder, 'Cuse has never beaten Duke at Cameron Indoor (0-2 all-time), and is just 3-5 overall against their new conference rivals, including a 2-4 mark vs. Mike Krzyzewski.