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Syracuse vs. Duke preview: Five things to watch

Can the Orange put Saturday night’s loss behind them?

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Well, Saturday night wasn’t very fun for the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team, but they have a huge opportunity to bounce back in the biggest way possible Monday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium against the No. 1-4anked Duke Blue Devils.

The Orange were outplayed for 40 minutes on Saturday, as they fell to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the Carrier Dome. That was Syracuse’s first loss in ACC play this season, but now they have their toughest test of the year as they what’s likely the most talented team in the country in Duke.

Where will the offense come from?

Syracuse’s offense went dormant once again this season, as they were held to just 59 points against the Yellow Jackets. Sure, Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett, and Elijah Hughes all scored in double figures, but the three leading scorers for the Orange shot poorly to say the least, combining to hit just 11 of 34 attempts against Georgia Tech.

Duke has incredible athletes, as their team averages the most steals per game in the ACC (11.3), so this will be arguably the hardest game for the Orange’s “scorers” to find some easy shots. It’s going to be tough for Syracuse’s ball handlers to take their man off the dribble, so the Orange are going to have to do what they don’t do very well if they want to shock the Blue Devils: get hot from deep.

Zion Williamson’s health

Freshman sensation Zion Williamson missed the entire second half in Duke’s nail-biting win over the Florida State Seminoles, as he was hit in the eye late in the first half. Williamson is a matchup nightmare on both ends of the floor, as his size and strength make him nearly impossible to stop going towards the basket. Williamson’s availability will be a key focal point in this one against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone.

Reserve forward Jack White’s obviously no slouch since he’s on the Duke roster. Though the 6-foot-7 Australian averages fewer than seven points per game. Williamson, on the other hand, puts up 20.3 per.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Can the Orange keep Duke out of transition?

Whether it be Williamson or R.J. Barrett coming at you full speed, the Orange are going to have their hands full when stopping the Blue Devils in transition. Duke has a handful of athletes who are great at scoring on the fast break, so Syracuse is going to need to do a good job of getting back off of misses, and trying to stop the Blue Devils from scoring without fouling. It’s easier said than done, but the Orange will have a much easier chance of beating Duke if they can limit their transition buckets—the best way to keep Duke out of transition: make shots.

Can Tyus Battle and Frank Howard get in the lane?

Frank Howard and Battle have the ability to get hot from deep, but they are both much more effective when they are shooting the ball from inside the paint. The backcourt duo struggled to get to their spots against the Yellow Jackets, as they couldn’t get in the lane with ease, forcing them to take tough contested shots. It’s going to be a long night if the veteran Orange guards are unable to get the ball inside against Duke’s perimeter pressure.

Watch out for the backdoor lob

If you’ve watched Syracuse basketball over the last few years, you have surely seen the lob pass that the opponent throws over the back of the zone. It’s hard for the middle man of the zone to see behind him, so teams are able to throw lobs to backdoor cutters when the five is caught sleeping. With leapers such as Barrett and Williamson, the Blue Devils could have a field day with that particular look; watch for coach Jim Boeheim to be on his big men to be looking out for the Tre Jones lob to the high-flying Williamson.