Teams: Syracuse Orange (18-8, 9-4) vs. Duke Blue Devils (23-3, 11-2)
Day & Time: Saturday, February 23 at 6 p.m. ET
Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.
Line: N/A. ESPN’s BPI gives Duke an 81.6-percent chance of beating Syracuse.
Radio: Syracuse IMG Network, WAER 88.3, SiriusXM: 971 (Syracuse) | 84 (Duke)
Duke blog: Duke Basketball Report
Rivalry: 7-6, Duke
Current Streak: 1, Orange
First Meeting: Syracuse lost out on what would have been its first Final Four trip back in 1966, falling to Duke in the Elite Eight (IN RALEIGH?!), 91-86. Rick Dean led SU in scoring with 16 points, but some guy named Jim Boeheim was second with 15 of his own. The Blue Devils pulled away late in a back-and-forth game behind strong efforts from Jack Marin (22 points), Bob Verga (21) and Steve Vacendak (19).
If Twitter had existed back then, Orange fans would’ve shouted about home-cooking for weeks. Which, let’s be honest, playing an Elite Game in Raleigh is pretty bogus, even for 1960s’ era hoops.
Last Meeting: No. 1 Duke suffered its first loss this season within the continental United States in dramatic and surprising fashion. The Blue Devils, who had just one defeat before this match up, that to Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational, were stunned in overtime at home by Syracuse, 95-91.
It was shocking in large part because the Orange lost to Georgia Tech in its previous game, and entered Cameron Indoor as 17-point underdogs. Furthermore, Jim Boeheim’s team started the game by falling behind by double digits just about four minutes after tip-off. But after Tre Jones left with a shoulder injury, (Duke was also playing without Cam Reddish due to illness) Syracuse settled down and settled in.
Junior Tyus Battle scored 32 points and seemingly hit big shot after big shot to help the Orange crawl back into the game early and then to help seal the deal late for the big victory. Paschal Chukwu contributed with what could be considered his best game ever in a Syracuse uniform. The seven-foot-two center scored 10 points and pulled down a career-best 18 boards. Syracuse was also aided by Frank Howard’s 16 and Elijah Hughe’s 20 points—including a nearly 80-foot shot at the first-half buzzer.
Zion Williamson was a beast, scoring a game-high 35 points while grabbing 10 rebounds. Williamson also blocked four shots and made 10 of his 14 free-throw attempts. But outside of the big man, the Blue Devils struggled mightily against the Orange’s 2-3 zone.
Duke took a school-record 43 three-pointers, making just nine. RJ Barrett had a nightmare of a game, going 4 of 17 from three. That was the second most three-point attempts by a Blue Devil all time. Somehow, that wasn’t the worst of the worst, though, as Jack White went o-for-the-game, missing all 10 of his three-pointers.
Head Coaches: SU: Jim Boeheim (43rd year, 1,045-379; Duke: Mike Krzyzewski (39th year, 1,050–281—1123-341)
Coach Bio: Coach K played at Army, then was active duty until 1974, when he rejoined Bobby Knight (his former coach) at Indiana. He stayed there for just a season before going back to his alma mater and coaching them for five okay seasons. That was enough to earn the Duke gig in 1980, and by year four he had them in the NCAA Tournament. Since then, he’s won five national titles, made 12 Final Fours and won 14 ACC Tournament titles. He’s also won three Olympic gold medals and in the process, earned the additional benefit of Boeheim’s zone defense.
Last Year: I hope you’re sitting down because it might be hard to believe that Duke came into the season with high expectations. I know, crazy, right? Well, the Blue Devils were a preseason top-five and somehow grinded their way to a 29-8 overall record.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s group, a fun-loving, feel-good bunch, finished second in the regular-season standings of the ACC and ended up losing to North Carolina in the conference tourney. From there, Duke wound its way through the Midwest Region of the NCAA tourney, even taking out Syracuse in the Sweet 16.
The season came to a wrap when the Blue Devils lost to Kansas, 85-81, in overtime of the regional finals.
While it’s kind of hard to believe that Duke didn’t make the Final Four, it’s also kind of hard to comprehend the fact that the Blue Devils lost so much from last year and are on pace for another amazing season this year.
Think about this: Gary Trent, Jr., Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr. and Grayson Allen all left the program following last season. And despite that, Coach K rebounded with a rebuild full of top-tier recruits.
Last Game: With former President Barack Obama and movie mogul Spike Lee court side in Cameron Indoor Stadium, No. 1 Duke was blown out by No. 8 North Carolina, 88-72, on Wednesday night.
The Tar Heels played one of their best games of the season, making 50 percent of their shots from the field and by scoring 62 points in the paint for the game.
Why is that?
(Look at that freakin’ sneaker!)
Welp, it might have had something to do with Duke star Zion Williamson’ injured knee. Yeah, that happened! I know, no one is talking about it. And get this, his foot ripped through the bottom of his sneaker leading to the injury just over 30 seconds into the game. I can’t believe more people aren’t covering this fiasco.
Anywho, Williamson clutched his leg for a bit and then hobbled to the locker room, where he remained for the rest of the game. Afterward, Mike Krzyzewski said Williamson suffered a mild knee sprain and was considered “day to day” with the injury. Will he play tomorrow? That’s unknown as of this writing, but his being in or out will affect the game in a major way.
Meanwhile, with Zion out Wednesday, North Carolina’s Luke Maye went to work. The senior forward scored 30 points and had 15 rebounds, helping the Tar Heels take complete control of the lane both on offense and on defense. Cameron Johnson also had a game, scoring 26 points, making 11 of his 13 shots from within the three-point line.
“Fear Me, I’ve Killed Hundreds of Timelords”: If he plays then the answer here is Zion Williamson. The eventual first pick of June’s NBA draft scored 30 points and grabbed 15 rebounds against Syracuse in January. He’s a game-changer on every level and someone who could eat the middle of the Orange’s zone in one bite.
If he doesn’t play, or is limited, then fellow freshman RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish are the obvious choices for players to watch. In the loss to UNC, Barrett scored 33 points and Reddish added 27 points. Neither have shown themselves to be consistent shooters, especially so from deep, but both are extremely talented and athletic. And given that Mike Krzyzewski will have a couple of days to game plan (unlike having to work on the fly against the Tar Heels when Williamson got hurt), I’m betting Duke will attack the zone much differently than the first game against Syracuse.
Lastly, Alex O’Connell made 4 of 8 three-pointers against the Orange last month. He’s basically fallen off the map a little since that game, but if Williamson is out, Krzyzewski might look to have O’Connell take some shots from deep and let Barrett, Reddish and company work the inside game.
If Syracuse Wins: Keeping this just about basketball, a win means Syracuse is not only “in” for the NCAA Tournament, it might even start to work itself into a decent seed for the bracketologists. It would also push the Orange closer to a potential “double bye” for the upcoming ACC tourney.
A victory ups Syracuse to 19-8, 10-4 and that’s pretty damn remarkable given some of the bad losses this year.
If Syracuse Loses: Oh well. Syracuse has already beaten Duke once this season, in Durham, N.C. no less. It would be disappointing for fans, but the season moves on.
Fun Fact No. 1: You know how Duke lost to North Carolina on Wednesday night? Well, the Blue Devils have actually lost before to the Tar Heels when ranked No. 1 in the country. Do you know the only other opponent to take down a top-ranked Duke at home? That would be your Syracuse University Fightin’ Orange.
Fun Fact No. 2: This probably isn’t “fun” necessarily, but Duke plays the previous season’s Division II national champ in an exhibition game every November inside Cameron Indoor. That struck me as interesting so I put it here. So there.