We saw this article today that asked if Duke had replaced Georgetown as Syracuse’s #1 rival.
We’ll leave that up to them; we will say we’d rather play Syracuse than Maryland. Syracuse fans are loud and passionate but you don’t feel threatened. Maryland was never quite safe. People actually got attacked there. One year when Wake was about to pull off an upset, the ushers advised Wake Forest fans to hide under their seats.
Syracuse isn’t like that. They just love their basketball and, well, we love them for that. They’ve been a nice presence in the ACC and Jim Boeheim may even have found a few restaurants he likes down here.
This year’s team struggled early but has coalesced around the offensively dynamic trio of Elijah Hughes, Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard. Hughes, who started at ECU before moving back north, has become a very good player and will be difficult to stop.
Hughes, a 6-6 junior, is shooting 37.3 from the bonusphere, 43.2 percent overall and is definitely a guy who can take over a game.
Boeheim, the coach’s son and a 6-6 sophomore, is well ahead of expectations. He can flat out shoot it and while he’s not immensely athletic, he knows how to get a shot off.
Girard, who Duke recruited hard and who broke the New York high school scoring record, has not been as solid offensively as he will be. Like Boeheim, he’s not hugely athletic but he’s someone you don’t want to let get hot, least of all at home.
Up front, Syracuse features 6-10 Marek Dolezaj, a Slovakian who is best known for the guts he showed last season in taking a charge from Zion Williamson.
He missed a couple of games after that but you had to admire his courage. He’s also, as it turns out, a very smart player. He’s very thin at 185 but he’s good.
The post is generally occupied by Bourama Sidibe, a 6-10 junior from Mali. Like Dolezaj, he hasn’t been able to gain much weight. He’s still 210 but even that’s bulkier than the rail thin Dolezaj.
Freshman Quincy Guerrier, 6-7, has really come on and is now the de facto sixth man. Fellow freshman Brycen Goodine, 6-3 is also getting time and in fact is getting more minutes than Howard Washington, who sat out the last game with an ankle injury.
If he sits in this one, Syracuse will miss reliable depth and experience.
The keys to controlling Syracuse this year are to repress the Big Three shooters and to keep the ball away from Dolezaj, who is a handy passer.
Duke is pretty well equipped to defend the Orange. Tre Jones was having the game of his life against Syracuse last year when he was injured. He should do okay against Girard. Between Jordan Goldwire and Cassius Stanley, Duke should be able to defend Hughes and Boeheim reasonably well and Jack White and Joey Baker, who has shown a real fighting spirit, will also help. Obviously though this is a game where Wendell Moore could be huge.
At 6-6, Moore can defend at least four of Syracuse’s starters and possibly five. If he’s able to go - and he warmed up against Pitt - he could be immensely valuable off the bench.
Defensively, Syracuse will almost certainly use the 2-3 Boeheim prefers and will try to shut Vernon Carey out, but with smaller and thinner players, the zone isn’t as effective as it has been in the past.
The key to beating the zone is to crack it from the inside. If you can establish a player between the 2 and the 3, he can pull people to him and pass to open shooters.
You may remember that Alex O’Connell has done well against Syracuse in the past and we’d have to think that Baker is a guy who could go off too. So could White and, if Syracuse doesn’t tend the corners, could Matthew Hurt.
For that matter, Hurt could do real damage on Girard’s side of the zone. Just 6-1, Girard’s forte is offense so it’s hard to see how he could do much to limit the 6-9 Hurt, who often shoots a semi set shot.
This is one of the few games this season that Hurt should have a significant physical advantage over an opponent: he outweighs the spindly Dolezaj by 29 pounds. If he gets the ball inside, he can pound Dolezaj. Possibly Sidibe too.
Which brings us to Vernon Carey.
At 275, Carey has 55 pounds on the heaviest Syracuse player. If - and it’s an if - Duke can get the ball into him, he’s a wrecking ball. He’ll be very hard to guard close to the basket.
Duke is clearly going to be favored in this game but Syracuse is playing well and with confidence lately. And as we saw last year with the Jones injury, plans can quickly go awry. It’s also worth mentioning that Duke is taking a young team into a huge and hostile stadium and it’s impossible to know how that will work out.
All things considered though, we think Duke should match up well and we’ll be very happy if Moore is able to go too since he’ll add a lot of versatility on both ends.