Somehow, the 11-seed Syracuse Orange have made it to the Sweet 16. Their next opponent is their toughest yet, however, in the No. 2 Duke Blue Devils. We saw Duke back in February and it did not go well at all in a 60-44 loss. But things are slightly different now -- or at least we’re telling ourselves as much.
Since we’re not Duke fans (thankfully), we wanted to learn a bit more about the Blue Devils before Friday night’s game. So we asked Julian King at Duke Basketball Report to tell us everything we need to know about the team this year. We also answered some questions over there, which we you can check out here.
How surprised are you to see Syracuse across from you in this year’s Sweet 16?
A bit, of course, but Jim Boeheim did it a couple of years ago too from a low seed and got all the way to the Final Four. He’s a great NCAA Tournament coach.
Duke’s used a zone defense to much success this year. Are Duke fans happy about it? Or annoyed that they’re using something that’s long been Jim Boeheim’s trademark?
I think a lot of us bought into Coach K’s insistence on man-to-man over the years and personally I prefer it. But you have to adjust and the freshmen just don’t know enough to play solid man-to-man. As far as liking it goes, well it’s working so we like it. Beats getting sliced to ribbons.
Speaking of the zone, how is Duke’s different from Syracuse’s?
I’m not a zone master, but I do think having several big guys makes the interior pretty formidable. When you put Marvin Bagley Jr., Wendell Carter and Javin DeLaurier on the back line it’s very hard to get through. And Coach K has said several times that he would prefer to shut down three-point shooting to giving up layups. On a good day, the zone does both.
On paper, the Blue Devils are well-equipped to beat SU because of their inside game. But is there more to Duke’s advantage than the big men?
Since he’s a senior, I probably don’t really need to say a lot about Grayson Allen other than he’s been shooting well. When he’s on, he has serious range. If you saw the game against Rhode Island, he hit a couple of shots from beyond 35 feet. Most zones won’t go out that far.
Gary Trent is a guy the rest of the team looks to. Some of his teammates have called him Pitbull or Bulldog. He’s a very tough-minded competitor and he can shoot too. Both guys are tall enough to deal with your perimeter defenders. The biggest surprise though, at least lately, has been the surge by Trevon Duval. He has always been able to penetrate, but his judgement has been hit or miss. Lately it’s been pretty good and he clearly has confidence now in his three-point shot.
Also, Duke’s bench is better than people realize. Marques Bolden has become very reliable and there’s not much drop off when he comes in. DeLaurlier is highly athletic and Alex O’Connell is sneaky good. He’s going to be a major factor as his career advances. And you overlook Jack White at your peril. He’s had a couple of sensational stretches this year. You wouldn’t guess it but he’’s got like a 41” vertical. He can be a big factor.
Biggest takeaway from the last time these two teams played this season?
Well remember that Bagley had just come back and wasn’t 100%. He is now. Duke’s offense and defense are hitting a higher level. I wouldn’t bet the house money on it but I think Duke will score more than 60 points this time around.
Who’s the one Syracuse player that concerns you the most?
Brissett and Battle. Either guy can really hurt you.
Any unsung Duke players we should be keeping an eye on?
Jack White, as mentioned above. O’Connell can surprise you too. But one of my favorite players on this team hardly ever gets in but I think he has a huge influence on the team and that’s Justin Robinson. He hardly plays but when he does he can block shots and hit threes. He’s also, I think, a really important leader on the team.
What’s been the highlight of the first two rounds for the Blue Devils so far? And does that apply to this game at all?
That’s hard to say. Just the overall elevated play. And maybe the improvement in Duval’s game.
Prediction time: Who wins this one and why?
Tricky question. Basically Syracuse has to keep the score low so the higher Duke gets the further the distance could be. If it’s 60 or under it could be a toss up 67-60 Duke.