Duke will play Syracuse in its Thursday night ACC Tournament opener and at this point, there really are no secrets between conference teams.
Duke has played Syracuse without Tre Jones (mostly) and Zion Williamson (entirely).
Thursday’s game will be sans Marques Bolden and Syracuse may be without Tyus Battle, who has not played since taking a hard fall at Clemson. He didn’t play against Pitt on Wednesday night and he’s likely to miss a few more days at a minimum.
Buddy Boeheim filled in for Battle and had a career night with 20.
Duke has said that Zion Williamson is expected back for the ACC Tournament and we hope that he is ready but haven’t heard anything definite yet. The announcement will come some time tomorrow.
Either way, Duke is going to have to pay attention to fouls. Bolden hasn't had a huge statistical impact but he has been a reliable rebounder and shot blocker and the other parts of his game have steadily improved.
Javin DeLaurier is capable but also tends to pick up fouls suddenly in the middle of a game.
That probably puts Williamson, assuming he’s healthy, as DeLaurier’s backup unless Coach K pulls a lineup rabbit out of the hat a la Reggie Love in 2001.
Duke’s problem, as it always is with Syracuse, is the zone. It can be defeated obviously but like Virginia’s D, it’s a Great Equalizer and at a minimum it usually gives Syracuse a puncher’s chance.
For the ‘Cuse, missing Battle, in a nutshell, means this team almost certainly can’t win the ACC Tournament. We’re not saying that it means that they can’t beat Duke. They’ve already done that.
But Duke, most likely UNC and then probably Virginia? Basically impossible without Battle. We don’t gamble and we never encourage anyone else to, but if we did gamble and did encourage anyone else to place a bet, that’s a fairly safe bet to place.
For Duke, Williamson presents promise and possible concerns. No one doubts Zion’s talent. Anyone can see it.
But he’s missed time and that typically means timing and conditioning aren't fully restored.
Will he be a bit off? Will he get winded? Will he reach if he’s tired?
What if Eleanor Roosevelt could fly?
It’s all just speculation until we see him. However we’re pretty sure of this: it doesn't necessarily much matter in a sense.
If you’re younger you may not be familiar with the Willis Reed story but Reed had injured a muscle in Game Seven in the days before modern medical care.
He came out in the finals and scored twice against Wilt Chamberlain and that was enough. He sat the rest of the game and his teammates, buoyed by his presence, played brilliantly.
Reed’s presence gave his team immense confidence.
Williamson’s could do the same for his.
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