After a disappointing loss at home to Georgia Tech on Saturday, the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team will have to turn the page rather quickly as it takes on Duke tonight from Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils are the No. 1 team in the country and are coming off a win at Florida State this weekend on a Cam Reddish game-winning three.
To preview tonight’s matchup, we caught up with Julian King from Duke Basketball Report to talk how the freshmen have handled expectations, won the media game that is garnering the nation’s attention and to predict a winner.
TNIAAM: Duke obviously came into the season with lofty expectations. How has a young and relatively inexperienced squad handled that and meshed?
Duke Basketball Report: Better than I thought honestly. The freshmen are remarkably mature. They seem to be handling the circus very well.
TNIAAM: Everyone wants to talk about Zion Williamson, so let’s start there. How do you guard someone so unique with his skill set?
DBR: Well the zone might limit him. He’s not a great outside shooter yet and in the half court it’s possible to keep the ball from him but once he gets it, what can you do? He’s bigger than anyone else, stronger than anyone else, jumps higher than anyone else and is quicker than anyone else. If it were me I’d try to draw fouls on him but you have to be kind of brave to do that.
TNIAAM: What do you think Zion’s ceiling and floor are as it relates to his pro potential?
DBR: I posted this this morning by coincidence. Maybe you could take what you want from that. Or you could just link to it. Basically the only limitation is desire. The world is at his feet. If he’s willing to pay the price for greatness he can do anything in this game.
TNIAAM: Coach K said on last week’s ACC teleconference he doesn’t mind the volume of R.J. Barrett’s shots so long as they’re good shots. I think that’s fair, but have some become concerned with the amount of times he shoots?
DBR: I think that’s overblown. What people miss is that he has a Mamba-esque mentality. He’s totally alpha. I don’t think everyone saw this the other day but Zion said “this is RJ’s team.” If Zion feels that way, I’m guessing everyone else does too. Having a guy on your team who is willing and eager to step up in the moment is pretty great.
TNIAAM: Speaking of, how did the preseason Canada tour help this team mesh early despite some injuries?
DBR: I think it helped a lot. It got RJ and Zion incorporated and got Jack White valuable time. It’s almost never a bad thing to get summer reps in you know?
TNIAAM: Duke was at the forefront of ESPN+ coverage. Who’s the genius in Durham that keeps the Blue Devils on the cutting edge and pushing/infiltrating Duke content into the proper media channels?
DBR: Well the multimedia guy at Duke is Dave Bradley and he’s brilliant. But I think it’s more than that. Coach K has talked about branding for a very long time and he’s done tons of things to do that. He used to do lots of ads, Final Four work in years when he wasn’t in it, courting national media (which irritated local media by the way). The SID staff is also outstanding. Mostly though I think it’s just decades of sustained excellence that coincided first with ESPN and secondarily with social media. The great 1992 team was pre-social media. Can you imagine the impact Christian Laettenr would have had on social media?
TNIAAM: R.J. and Zion have perhaps made things look easy, but Cam Reddish seems to be going through the typical freshman adjustment to the level of ACC play. Where does he fit on this team and can he play his game the way he’s capable of playing?
(Ed. note — this question was asked before Reddish’s performance at FSU on Saturday)
DBR: Can he play the way he’s capable of playing? He’s done it several times. I think he got set back a bit by injury and then he’s pressing a bit too. He just needs reps and confidence. He’s immensely talented.
TNIAAM: How have the returning players on Duke stepped up?
DBR: Pretty brilliantly I think. Jack White is one of the top sixth men in the country and would start most places. His focus is totally on team not me, me, me. Coach’s dream. Both Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden have improved a great deal and offer a two-headed solution inside. DeLaurier is a better fit with the pressure side of Duke’s D while Bolden is a better rim protector. I think Alex O’ Connell and Jordan Goldwire have both grown a lot and I’m a huge fan of Justin Robinson. It’s not his minutes but his behind-the-scenes leadership. Antonio Vrankovic is limited athletically but he’s a powerful guy and a smart player. The main thing is they’ve all welcomed the freshmen. It’s a tight team.
TNIAAM: How does a team slow down or contain a team like Duke?
DBR: Try to limit turnovers, use the shot clock, jam up the middle and force Duke to shoot outside.
TNIAAM: No more 2-3 zone from Coach K this year?
DBR: I doubt it. This team has a bunch of guys who like to get in the passing lanes and watching them after a turnover is amazing. Duke has four point guards on the break. It’s insane. Also, Duke is blocking more shots than we’ve ever seen.
TNIAAM: These teams play contrasting styles on both ends of the floor. How do we see this game unfolding?
DBR: I’m sure Syracuse will try to jam things up and Duke will try hard to get into transition. If Reddish, White and O’Connell get hot outside, it’s really hard to beat Duke.
TNIAAM: Who is the best shooter on this Duke team?
TNIAAM: Any other nuggets of interest to share that Syracuse fans might not know about?
DBR: I don’t mean this to sound smug, believe me, but Zion looks to me like a once-in-a-lifetime talent. It’s not just his power or vertical but his intelligence for the game. Watch how smart that guy is. Watch how many steals he almost gets. Then watch the chemistry on this team. You have good years and bad years when it comes to chemistry but this team has it in buckets, no pun intended.
Also, we haven’t mentioned Tre Jones. That guy is much more like his brother Tyus than I ever dreamed he would be. Tyus had a talent for doing the right thing at the right time. I thought that in a sense, Tre’s talent might be a mild impediment. Tyus was never the most talented point guard but it didn’t matter because he outsmarted pretty much everyone he played against. Tre is more talented and, I’m becoming convinced, just as smart.
TNIAAM: Who wins, what’s the final score and why?
DBR: I think Duke will win. Cameron is a tough place for opponents. I’d say it’s a 7-10 point win but keep an eye on the shooters. If Reddish and White get hot, the zone won’t be as effective. Jones puts huge pressure on the ball handler and despite their highlight reels, Williamson and Barrett take defense seriously and Reddish has made a ton of steals. But Syracuse is never an easy out.
What do you guys think? Will Syracuse keep this one competitive by turning it into a rock fight on both ends of the floor or will Duke run Syracuse out of the gym by getting in transition? Perhaps something in the middle that includes Tre Jones throwing lobs over the top of the 2-3 zone in the half court?
Or.. has Jim Boeheim fooled the nation once more and gets Syracuse a win in Cameron? Join in on the conversation below in the comment section.