First off: Zion out. Boeheim in. Game Day from the studios in Bristol.
Things have not gone as anticipated for the rematch.
Zion OMG Williamson is out after his freak shoe injury against UNC. Jim Boeheim is coaching after his accident Wednesday in which a man died (Boehiem was not at fault and his post-accident behavior was exemplary).
And in light of the accident, ESPN decided to just do Game Day from Bristol.
Zion Williamson has been exciting fans across the basketball world and ticket prices have reflected that. Syracuse has seen massive interest in this game and has sold the Carrier Dome out.
In Durham, you’ll remember, Cam Reddish was out sick, yet Duke was rolling and Tre Jones was causing absolute chaos. He went down on a steal attempt though, injuring his shoulder.
He didn’t come back and it looked bad but as it turned out, it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been.
Duke lost to Syracuse but pulled things together and beat Virginia without Jones.
Duke lost Williamson against UNC and couldn’t adjust. Will the pattern repeat at Syracuse?
We’ll know tomorrow.
Despite the turmoil for both sides, we know quite a bit for the rematch.
Syracuse had a rocky start to the season with Boeheim bluntly criticizing his team. His post players were inadequate, Frank Howard was too slow to recover from injury. There were concerns that Oshae Brissett was auditioning for the draft.
Most of those things seem to have evened out. Boeheim has a solid core with Tyus Battle, Brisset, Elijah Hughes and Howard, who get the most minutes.
Marek Dolezaj, 6-10 and just 180 and who was memorably brave enough to take a charge from Williamson in Cameron, is next up in court time followed by Paschal Chukwu.
Dolezaj is a skilled basketball player limited by a lack of strength.
Chukwu had a huge game in Cameron with 18 rebounds. Since then he had 10 and eight against Pitt, which has no meaningful front court, and no more than four in any other game.
Syracuse has had one big change since the first Duke game and that’s Buddy Boeheim.
Jim’s kid has moved ahead of Jalen Carey in the rotation which at the beginning of the season seemed unlikely.
As you may remember, Carey was outstanding early when he filled in for Howard. He has proven unreliable with the ball though and probably needs some seasoning. Assuming he’s patient, he still has a bright future with Syracuse.
As for Boeheim, he’s a terrific shooter who has helped Syracuse. Other than four minutes at Virginia Tech on January 26th, he’s played a lot. In his last six games he’s averaged over 21 mpg which suggests Boeheim the coach has found Boeheim the player quite useful.
Since Duke, Syracuse’s schedule has been very favorable. The Orange have played Pitt and BC twice, Miami, Virginia Tech, Florida State, NC State and Louisville.
The losses came to Virginia Tech (before Justin Robinson’s injury), Florida State and NC State.
The Louisville game was a blowout win but the Cards have been reeling since the big Duke comeback. They nearly blew a game to Clemson in the closing seconds and lost to Syracuse by 20.
Syracuse has certainly improved since earlier in the season but five of the games since Duke were really easy and the three that were challenging were not and were in fact losses and not close losses either.
The Hokies won by 22, FSU by 18 and NC State by 15.
Louisville should have been tougher than it was but that goes into a slightly different category.
What we’re seeing with Syracuse, to an extent, is what we’ve seen since the Orange joined the ACC. Boeheim has a system that can cause any team problems. His recruiting isn’t what it was at his Big East peak, but he still gets players who thrive in it and his 2-3 zone gives him a puncher’s chance in any game.
Obviously it gave Duke trouble in Durham.
Duke has had issues with three point shooting all season. It’s been masked to an extent because Williamson is so dominant inside and scores with ease against most teams. Toss it inside and you have roughly a 70 percent chance of success.
That’s off the table this weekend so Duke has to find other answers.
Mike Krzyzewski is a superb strategist and a master psychologist so we expect he’s come up with a good plan and he’s tweaking psyches.
A guy who could make a big difference Saturday is Jack White. He hasn’t hit a three point shot since playing at Florida State on January 12th and seemed to completely lose his confidence after going 0-10 against Syracuse on the 14th.
Cam Reddish could also be a major asset for Duke in this one. He’s certainly capable of lighting it up from three point range and he’s tall enough to deal with SU’s long perimeter defenders. And certainly RJ Barrett can hit from outside, if not consistently.
Of course sometimes what most of us expect isn’t what Coach K is necessarily going to do. We know that Duke has struggle with outside shooting and that without Williamson, the inside is going to be problematic. So what’s another way to attack Syracuse?
Here’s something to consider.
In Durham, before he got hurt, Jones was a one-man wrecking crew. His defense was absolutely breathtaking. Honestly, we can’t remember the last time we saw such stunning ball pressure. He was everywhere.
At Louisville, Jordan Goldwire amplified it and showed that Duke could put on a devastating press.
So given the other issues Duke has to deal with, why not shake things up and just press the hell out of Syracuse?
If Duke does that and gets out into the open court, there is no zone and three point shots aren’t as important.
Whatever we see, we’re sure of one thing. In practice this week, as he told an earlier team when Grant Hill got hurt, he’s told this team that there will be no self-pity.
Duke is going to come out and play hard. Zion Williamson will cheer them on from the sideline.
It won’t be the team Syracuse expected to see, but Duke is going to come to play and will play to win.