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Next Up - Syracuse

Syracuse is in decline, but still a dangerous opponent

Syracuse v Duke
 DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 24: (L-R) Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils talks to head coach Jim Boeheim of the Syracuse Orange before their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 24, 2018 in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
  • Date: 1/22
  • Time: Noon
  • Venue: Cameron Indoor Stadium
  • Video: ESPN

Duke and Syracuse have developed an interesting rivalry since the latter joined the ACC. Duke has essentially maintained its position as one of the top national programs, Covid year aside. Syracuse, by contrast, is in decline and struggling to stay over .500.

But that doesn’t mean that Duke is a lock or anything.

For one, Syracuse always gets up for Duke. For another, Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone always gives even a bad Syracuse team a puncher’s chance. And for another, a young Duke team is probably down a key player as freshman Trevor Keels is listed as doubtful.

Keels suffered a leg injury at FSU which was apparently not as bad as it looked. Doubtful is doubtful but it leaves a window open. It’s not no, and it’s not 2-3 weeks or anything like that.

So it could be worse.

Nonetheless, Duke is down a key player. Keels is a solid offensive presence, able to drive or shoot, but his defensive presence might be even bigger for Duke.

Presumably Jeremy Roach will move back in the starting lineup and the rotation will be adjusted from there. Foul trouble is going to be a concern since Duke really only goes eight deep.

As for Syracuse?

This is a team that’s capable of prodigious offense. You can’t lay off of Buddy or Jim Boeheim because they’ll gut you. Cole Sweider is capable of a huge night. Joe Girard is more of a point guard in college, but in high school, he scored an insane 4,763 points.

He averaged 50 ppg as a junior and 48.7 as a senior. Currently he’s averaging 13.9 but if you think he’s forgotten how to score, think again.

And then there’s Jesse Edwards.

Edwards, a 6-11 junior, is really coming on. The ACC is having a down year but there are a number of rapidly improving big men: Edwards, Duke’s Mark Williams, Florida State’s John Butler and Pitt’s John Hugley. Toss in the established bigs - Notre Dame’s Nate Laszewski, Louisville’s Malik Williams, NC State’s injured Manny Bates and UNC’s Armando Bacot, and the ACC has a pretty good group of bigs.

Edwards is improving but he’s foul prone and that’s been a major problem.

Syracuse has talent but the ‘Cuse has still struggled, particularly on defense. The starters are 6-11, 6-9, 6-8, 6-6 and 6-1. In Boeheim’s perfect world, they’d be bigger and with really long arms to help gum up the D. When he has tall, long-armed guys the zone is vastly more effective. l

And when Edwards goes out, that’s a big problem because his backups are somewhat lesser talents.

Boeheim has called his defense out and actually called it “disgraceful” after the loss to Virginia.

But both teams are playing with tight rotations and attacking the D trying to draw fouls could backfire.

And if the zone is effective and Duke has trouble getting decent shots, well, there’s your puncher’s chance. Duke understands the importance of getting someone inside the 2-3 and we would expect that to be either Paolo Banchero or Wendell Moore.

As we’ve seen lately, Mark Williams changes things for Duke. A superb shot blocker, he can completely change things inside. He, Banchero and Theo John present a major problem for Syracuse.

And speaking of John, Duke could use him as a battering ram, let him just go bash about inside and see what chaos he can cause. If he draws several fouls, that’s a huge help, and as he’s gotten over his various woes (a back injury and the Covid wave that hit the team), he’s become much more effective.

Duke is obviously going to be favored but it’s typically a slug-fest between these two. No reason to expect anything different this time.