Well the big day is here. The ESPN guys will be setting up in the Carrier Dome, Syracuse reports a record crowd is expected, the local media is going nuts and the students have been camping out in very cold weather in what the kids call Boeheimburg. Syracuse.com is even taking the occasion to relaunch as Cuse.com.
Pretty soon it's all real and the ball will go up. Which leads us to an interesting question.
What happens if Syracuse loses? After months and months of buildup, what happens if Duke comes in and wins?
Talk about deflating.
It's not nearly as dire if Duke loses. First, Syracuse is expected to win, and emotionally, it's a big game and being treated as a huge game. The Duke program has lost bigger games and survived. There's not much worse than losing by 33 in the national title game, but Duke has taken some real whippings during the K era and usually been alright afterwards. The fans generally understand and realize that it's an opportunity to improve.
So what if it ends like Pitt ended, with Duke firmly in control? What does the Syracuse world do with a big stink bomb like that?
We're not making any prediction, mind. We're just saying that all the scenarios, the excitement, the buildup - it's all based on the premise that Syracuse wins. But there are no guarantees obviously.
Here's another possibility to consider. For all the talk about Syracuse's defense, after watching the Pitt game again, Duke's defense has really, really improved. There were a few things that jumped out at us, nothing more than watching Rodney Hood and Amile Jefferson go after Lamar Patterson on the perimeter. It was like watching two sharks move in. Another Orange player tried to help but the Duke guys just flowed around him - and then Jefferson flowed back down to the post to defend hat. It was gorgeous to watch.
What's changed most for Duke is that the entire sophomore class, to a man, has improved dramatically since Christmas.
If you want to point to anything for Duke's sudden, dramatic improvement, you can start with how much better Rasheed Sulaimon, Amile Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee and Rodney Hood are playing.
Hood's improvement is primarily on defense. If you'd told us early that he would become a passionate defender, we'd have been dubious. But he's putting his heart into it.
Sulaimon has just improved everywhere and is now capable of dominating a game. He could play point if needed - he's turned into an outstanding passer, and defense has always been his calling card.
Jefferson is doing all sorts of sneaky smart things, from tipping rebounds and vastly improved help defense to rebounding like a demon and improving his inside game. He's even started to hit free throws, which he wasn't earlier.
Plumlee's improvement is also striking. He plays inside with a mean streak and his game right now focuses on rebounding and defense, and he's helping in both areas.
And needless to say, Andre Dawkins is a new player. He still has his shot, but now he has joy in his game and is in vastly superior condition. The Pitt game no doubt served as a warning for Syracuse: you cannot ignore Dawkins.
So our final thought on this game is (probably, but don't hold us to it) this. It's going to come down to the backcourt. Tyler Ennis has proven to be steady and mature beyond anyone's expectations. He's a great point guard.
Trevor Cooney is a more limited guard but he can kill it from three point range and clearly loves to shoot. "No one has to tell me to shoot" he says - ha!
Duke's quartet, Quinn Cook, Sulaimon, Tyler Thornton and Matt Jones, are all capable defenders, and Hood is essentially a tall guard.
Unless something critical happens like CJ Fair or Jerami Grant for Syracuse or Hood or Jabari Parker or Jefferson gets into foul trouble early, the backcourts will likely settle this one.
In conjunction with either a zone or sturdy man-to-man defense, that is.
Oh, we will make one more point before we forget. The zone is problematic for everyone who comes across it, but for the last several summers, Coach K has picked Jim Boeheim's mind on the zone over and over again. If anyone understands Boeheim's principles here, it's Krzyzewski.
Knowing exactly how something works doesn't mean you can stop it - when Vince Lombardi was in Green Bay, the offense was not at all complicated.
Didn't mean anyone could stop it. But we doubt anyone in college outside of Syracuse knows Boeheim's zone better than Coach K.
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