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Syracuse vs. Duke preview: Five things to watch

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Will the March magic continue?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round- Michigan State Spartans vs Syracuse Orange Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

After busting endless amounts of brackets, the Syracuse Orange will look to shock the nation once again with a win over the Duke Blue Devils in the Sweet 16. The Blue Devils come in as the two seed, as the No. 11 Orange look to find some revenge after a loss in the first meeting between the two teams during the regular season.

The Blue Devils pose to be arguably the most talented team left in the Big Dance, so it’ll take a near-perfect performance from Tyus Battle and crew to pull off the upset.

Penetrating the zone

The Orange had their worst offensive performance of the year in their February 24 meeting against the Blue Devils, finishing the game with a (tied for) season-low 44 points. Syracuse shot 25 threes, making only six of them; the Orange do not have many quality perimeter shooters, so forcing contested threes may not have been the right game plan against the dynamic Blue Devils.

Duke’s use of the zone makes it hard for opponents to get the ball in the lane, but the Orange will need to find a way to puncture the zone if they want to improve on their last 44-point outing. Utilizing Marek Dolezaj and Oshae Brissett in the middle of the zone could work well when it comes to making the right decisions when the ball finds its way into the high post.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round- Michigan State Spartans vs Syracuse Orange Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The transition game

The Orange haven’t utilized the fast break game much this year, but they only managed to get four fast break points against Duke earlier this year. Syracuse needs to make sure this game doesn’t become a fast-paced outing, but they do need to find more success in transition.

SU isn’t a talented offensive team to say the least, but the easiest way to score the ball is in transition, and you can bet the “big three” will be looking to find easy looks when the opportunity presents itself.

Foul trouble

Syracuse does not go deep into their bench — at all. They rely on their starting five to carry most, if not all, of the scoring and defensive production, so getting in early foul trouble cannot happen if the Orange want to move on to the elite eight. Defending the multiple weapons Duke possesses wont’ be easy, but they need to do so without fouling before the game gets out of their hands.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round
This Duke team is different.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

So, how do you stop this Duke offense?

Do you let the dynamic front court of Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. dominate you, or do you key in on them and let the Blue Devils dominate from the perimeter? This offense is as ruthless as it gets, as they can score in a multitude of ways. Can they stop it? No. Can they maintain it? Well, as we’ve seen so far, this Syracuse defense is not one to doubt when it comes to dominance.

Can Paschal Chukwu get it going?

The Syracuse big man has struggled to score the ball so far in the NCAA Tournament, scoring a combined 12 points in three games. Paschal Chukwu isn’t being relied upon to score the ball in bunches, but any production outside of the “big three” would go a long way for the Orange.