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Next Up - Syracuse

Next up for Duke is a rematch with Syracuse, and you'd better believe the Orange are going to bring it Saturday night in Cameron.

Duke will need a strong effort from everyone, including Marshall Plumlee, to defeat Syracuse.
Duke will need a strong effort from everyone, including Marshall Plumlee, to defeat Syracuse.
Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Next up for Duke is Syracuse, and you have to admit that Boeheim's Bunch have filled Maryland's role nicely as a Duke and UNC foil.

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Duke won the first game up in Snowville USA, and Jahlil Okafor dominated Rakeem Christmas, the big man without whom, says Boeheim, Syracuse would not have won ten games.

The Duke game aside, he's got a point.

Christmas has been a revelation this year. In year's past Boeheim used him primarily for defense, allowing others to be the primary scorers.

Now though Christmas is the man, and it is pretty unexpected: his previous seasonal scoring averages were 2.8, 5.1 and 5.8.

Now? Try 18.1.

Rebounding went up year-by-year from 2.9 to 4.6 to 5.1 as a junior.


Try 9.3.

That's an amazing improvement, particularly as a senior. Usually by this point we know who a guy is.

Okafor's experience has been quite different.

As a freshman, he's never scored less than double figures and is averaging 18.4 ppg and 9.4 boards.

And he's shooting 66.5% from the floor.

About the only blemishes on his game are his poor free throw shooting and that his defense isn't as advanced as his offense.

Given his offense, most coaches would opt to live with his defense.

There is a significant difference between this team and the team Duke took to Syracuse two weeks ago, and that's depth, or really, the consequences of not having much of it.

Duke has not lost since Rasheed Sulaimon was dismissed from the team, but some guys are pulling heavy minutes and as we saw in Blacksburg, Duke can get in a danger zone energy wise.

Against Virginia Tech, in less than perfect health, Okafor played 37 minutes.  Justise Winslow played 39 before fouling out.  Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones went the whole 45.  Matt Jones was the light starter at 32.
Assuming Okafor continues to recover, some of those problems will lessen, and Amile Jefferson, who didn't start against the Hokies due to poor matchups, will probably start again.

Still, Duke got 27 minutes from its bench against Virginia Tech. It could use a bit more.

On the other hand though, Syracuse's depth isn't much better, but Syracuse is not doing that badly. Since losing to Duke, the Orange beat Louisville, lost to Pitt by four, and beat #9 Notre Dame.  BC too, but that's not of the same magnitude as the other wins.

Syracuse also has the advantage of letting its players rest more on defense since Boeheim plays the 2-3 zone exclusively.

Syracuse's situation may be somewhat compounded by an eye injury to Tyler Roberson which limited him to 15 minutes against the Irish. He's bound to be better though.

He and BJ Johnson could be a good balance to Okafor which could free up Christmas.

Duke has a great strength in the backcourt, too, where Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones have become a great set of guards. It's a bit reminiscent of State's Fire and Ice with Chris Corchiani and Rodney Monroe, not so much because of the roles as the temperaments.

In State's case, the point guard was the fiery one and the score was the cool one.

For Duke, the point guard, Jones, is very cool, particularly under pressure, while Cook tends to be more emotional and exuberant.

Still, there's a matchup problem with Syracuse's Michael Gbinije, who is 6-7. Syracuse has enough size to challenge Duke and may, like Virginia Tech, find that Duke is a bit weary and vulnerable.

However, that tends to work better away from home. Because in Cameron, even a tired Duke is still Duke - and that assumes that Duke is tired.

We're betting on energized.