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Next Up - Syracuse

A short turnaround after dramatic Saturday wins poses some serious challenges for both teams

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Syracuse
Feb 1, 2020; Syracuse, New York, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Matthew Hurt (21) and Syracuse Orange forward Bourama Sidibe (34) battle for the ball during the second half at the Carrier Dome. 
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

After Saturday’s tough and exhilarating win over Virginia, Duke has a quick turnaround and will face Syracuse in Cameron on Monday night. That won’t be easy either.

Syracuse is also coming off an epic, confidence building win, in their case over Notre Dame.

  • Date: 2/22
  • Time: 7:00
  • Venue: Cameron Indoor Stadium
  • Video: ESPN

Jim Boeheim’s team was down 20 in the second half and won by eight. Any way you look at it, that’s a hell of a turnaround.

Syracuse, now 13-6, still has many of the issues it had to start the season: a lack of size inside, a lack of depth, players who aren’t necessarily as long as Boeheim prefers to man his famous 2-3 zone and a distinct lack of three point shooters.

Okay, that last one was to see if you were awake. Syracuse has flaws, but three point shooting is not among them. Buddy Boeheim, Joe Girard and Alan Griffin give Syracuse a chance to win any game and while the percentage aren’t off the charts, you can’t ignore any of them, as Boeheim proved Saturday, ripping Notre Dame for 29.

Boeheim, a 6-7 junior, is a clever player, not a great athlete, but the classic coach’s son. And 6-1 sophomore Girard, who was a sensational high school player, is smallish, he can be very dangerous, especially if he heats up. You don’t want to leave any of them open.

The other two starters are 6-7 sophomore Quincy Guerrier, the latest Canadian to excel in the ACC, and 6-10 Marek Dolezaj, a human toothpick best remembered around here for taking a charge on Zion Williamson that led to him missing some time for Syracuse.

We call him a human toothpick because he’s 6-10 and 201 and in 20 years he’ll probably still weigh 201. It’s bad now but later in life he’ll appreciate it. And toothpick or not, who else had the courage to step in against a human freight train? We thought he was nuts to try it, but we have huge admiration for his courage. There are plenty of guys in the NBA who step aside when Williamson is bearing down on them.

Aside from that, Dolezaj is a smart, sound player but his weight imposes some limitations.

Guess who’s getting the most minutes for Syracuse though? That’s right - Dolezaj - and that underscores a dilemma for Syracuse: there’s no one else to man the center for Boeheim’s zone.

Guerrier is probably Jim Boeheim’s most talented player. He’s averaging 15.2 ppg, matching Boeheim and Griffin precisely at the moment. He’s also averaging 9.2 rpg, which leads the team.

So this isn’t a classic Syracuse squad. A team like that would have a Rony Seikaly or a Rakeem Christmas in the post with at least three long defenders and preferably a tall point guard.

That would make the zone just about airtight. It’s really hard to work against Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 when he has long, mobile athletes. It’s still effective, don’t misunderstand, but it’s best with guys like that.

Even so, Saturday’s comeback wasn’t fueled by Syracuse’s zone. That happened because Boeheim told his team to press and they pressed very, very well, well enough to turn a 20 point deficit into an eight point victory.

And it’s not like they just turned Notre Dame over because the Irish only had 10 turnovers although eight came in the second half. But on one of those turnovers, Notre Dame got the following rebound and scored a three and another one went like this:

Juwan Durham had the turnover, Kadary Richmond missed the layup, Guerrier missed the follow-up, Durham got a block on another Guerrier attempt then Guerrier missed another then Durham got the rebound, Trey Wertz turned it over, Buddy Boeheim missed a three, Richmond was fouled by Dane Goodwin and on the subsequent play, Boeheim scored a three.


After that, Hubb had another turnover and Guerrier hit another three and then it was a one point game.

That was a lot of work for one basket. What it is, really, is a team sticking together and refusing to accept a loss. We’re not huge Syracuse fans here - just the color is god-awful - but we recognize heart when we see it and to do that took enormous heart.

The question for both teams is how much they will have in the tank Monday night. Playing Virginia is really demanding and Syracuse really played hard against Notre Dame. Really hard.

It won’t surprise us if neither team shoots well.

Duke has gotten exquisite, beautiful offense out of Matthew Hurt in the last four games. He’s hit 29-42 overall which works out to 69 percent and for threes in that stretch he’s 15-23 for 65.2 percent.

Duke’s other solid offensive performers against Virginia were Jeremy Roach with 12 and Jaemyn Brakefield with 11.

Wendell Moore is far enough past his early, awful slump that no one really thinks about it anymore. And he’s making contributions in many other ways too. He tied for top rebounder against Virginia with five (matched by Brakefield) and had seven assists, almost more than the rest of Duke’s guards, who combined for eight.

Mark Williams only got seven minutes against Virginia because it worked better with Brakefield. We’re honestly not sure how he’ll work against Syracuse with such a three point attack but that doesn’t diminish how much he has improved and he’s shown that he’s a formidable presence on defense. We’re not sure there’s a better shot blocker in the conference now and certainly no one with more potential.

Henry Coleman has become a reliable reserve who brings a ton of energy, as does Brakefield, of course.

And for that matter, bringing Jordan Goldwire off the bench makes Duke’s rotation really interesting: one of the ACC’s premier defenders, Roach’s emergence has allowed Goldwire to focus on his strength. Toss in Joey Baker, who has dramatically improved as a defender, and Duke has nine guys who have all excelled at times.

And in this game, depth could be a big deal. Both teams really played hard on Saturday. With two teams playing two games in 48 hours, it’s going to be harder to ride on emotion, least of all for Duke in an empty Cameron. A little bit more depth could be key.