Hold on to your hats: this is where the real fun begins.
The Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team (13-6, 4-4) begins a 10-game stretch heading into the ACC Tournament that sees the program compete against four ranked opponents and three additional ACC programs projected to make the NCAA Tournament.
It’s resume-building time for the Orange, who were recently categorized as a “Next Four Out” team in ESPN’s latest bracketology projection. That was before the double-digit defeat to a then-winless in conference play Georgia Tech squad. ‘Cuse is in win-now mode moving forward if the team is looking to make some noise in March.
First up on the slate is a classic conference rivalry match between ‘Cuse and the #13 Duke Blue Devils (16-2, 6-1). Duke’s resume remains nearly perfect, with its only two losses being against #5 UConn and #17 North Carolina. The Blue Devils rank ninth in NET ranking in the whole country, second in the ACC behind sixth-ranked Notre Dame. Duke is currently tied for first in the conference after being projected to finish seventh in the ACC’s Blue Ribbon preseason poll.
Tip-off between Syracuse and Duke is at 12 pm EST in Durham, with the game available for streaming on ESPN’s ACC Network.
With Syracuse looking to avoid three-straight losses for the first time his season, here’s what to watch for between the Orange and the Blue Devils.
Question #1: Can the Orange’s offense stay alive against Duke’s defense?
The craziest part about the Blue Devils’ success this season is that its offense isn’t that elite. Duke ranks 10th in the ACC in points per game. Statistically, this team is dominant across the board, ranking first in opponent points per game (51 PPG, which is six points lower than the next-best defense in the conference, and even crazier considering Duke’s difficult schedule so far this season) and first in opponent rebounds per game.
Syracuse’s offense is averaging just 56.5 points per game in its last two contests against #7 Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. Duke is an entirely different animal that will look to deny opportunities for Dyaisha Fair (currently the third-best leading scorer in the ACC). Teisha Hyman, Georgia Woolley, and company will need to step up across the board.
Question #2: Can ‘Cuse hit the 70-point marker?
It’s an odd benchmark for a point total, but Syracuse has only lost two games (against Louisville and Purdue) when the Orange have scored more than 70 points. Duke is a hyper-efficient but low-volume offensive team that ranks top-six in the ACC in field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and free throw percentage.
Limiting scoring opportunities for the Blue Devils is the Orange’s best chance of pulling off a victory. That means Syracuse needs to both cut down on turnovers (Duke ranks second in opponent turnovers) and win the battle on the perimeter (both programs rank top-five in the ACC in opponent three-point defense).
Question #3: How will Dariauna Lewis anchor the defense?
Most of my attention will be on Lewis (9.8 PPG, 9.7 RPG, and 1.7 BPG), who’s quietly (and consistently) been Syracuse’s second- or third-best player depending on the day. She struggled against Notre Dame, especially against the Fighting Irish’s top-tier forward crop. Against Duke, controlling the boards will be a must as the Orange allow the second-most rebounds to opponents in the conference.
Syracuse versus Duke preview by the numbers
All-time: Syracuse is 3-7 all-time against Duke, with the Orange losing its last two games to the Blue Devils. This includes a 1-2 record against Duke on the road.
Last matchup: Last season, ‘Cuse was defeated 74-65 at home.
Win/loss implications: A win gives the Orange easily its most impressive victory of the season, while a loss means Syracuse will have three-straight losses for the first time this season.
Prediction: I’ll be as optimistic as I can, but this Duke team is a tough one, especially because its strengths are notable weaknesses for the Orange. I do think ‘Cuse can hang around similar to the Notre Dame game, but will ultimately fall 68-56 on the road.
Syracuse vs. Duke Team Stats
|Margin of Victory||plus-9.5||plus-18.1|