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Next Up - Syracuse

This one could get interesting

Syracuse v Duke
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - JANUARY 22: Theo John #12 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after a dunk against the Syracuse Orange during the second half of their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 22, 2022 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 79-59.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images
  • Date: 2/26
  • Time: 6:00
  • Venue: Carrier Dome
  • Video: ESPN

There are three games left in the regular season for Duke: Syracuse, Pitt and UNC. All three have particular significant for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski as his spectacular career winds down. Syracuse means his buddy Jim Boeheim. Pitt means his former player and assistant Jeff Capel. And UNC is UNC.

The festivities for the Syracuse game started early when Coach K called into Boeheim’s radio show as “Mike from Durham.” Hilarity ensued, or as close as it was going to get anyway. It was a fun moment.

It hasn’t been quite the same in Durham, but when Duke plays at Syracuse, it’s become a huge deal. Camping out in Krzyzewskiville takes some dedication but to do it in Syracuse shows some serious commitment: the high Friday is 29; the low is 17. And it’s about to snow too, and not the dusting we see around here either.

So we admire the dedication.

Duke of course gave Syracuse a proper Cameron beating in January, winning by 20 with a lead of 31 at a couple of points.

Syracuse has had another mostly mediocre season - in nine ACC seasons, Boeheim has only reached 20 wins three times - but the Orange have certainly improved lately.

The ‘Cuse lost to Duke and Pitt back-to-back in late January and were 9-10.

Since then they've been 6-2 and are now 15-13. It’s not a great record but it beats being under .500. Just out of curiosity, in the non-20 win seasons, Syracuse is averaging 18.5 wins.

Of those wins though, four of them came before Jesse Edwards suffered a hand injury. That came against Boston College on February 8th. In the last two games, Syracuse needed overtime to beat Georgia Tech, currently in 14th place, and Notre Dame won 79-69.

In the Tech game, Rodney Howard, who averages 6.4 ppg and 5.1 rpg, had 19 points and 10 boards. And for Notre Dame, Paul Atkinson and Nate Laszewski combined for 37 points and 20 rebounds with half of Atkinson’s coming at the line. Howard had six attempts for Tech.

Clearly, without Edwards Syracuse has a problem and with Mark Williams, Paolo Banchero and Theo John, Duke can attack inside.

That’s a bit worse when you consider that Boeheim’s famous 2-3 zone is at its best when the defenders are longer and leaner. Their spirits are willing, but Cole Swider, Jimmy and Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard are not classic Boeheim defenders.

All of them, however, can be extremely dangerous shooters and especially three point shooters.

And you don’t have to be Einstein to get that trading 3 for 2 is a winning proposition. if Syracuse starts raining threes, look out.

Side note: Boeheim says that Swider and both of his sons are not coming back next year.

To be clear, while the zone is less effective than it has been, it’s not like it’s useless. Tech shot 39.4 percent. Notre Dame did better at 40.3 percent but Blake Wesley and Dane Goodwin combined to shoot 6-24. Duke did better in Durham at 47.6 but this jumps out a bit: the Blue Devils only took seven foul shots.

So essentially, to grossly oversimplify, it comes down to this: Duke has chances to really hurt Syracuse inside, and to get to the foul line a lot, since Frank Anselem, Bourama Side and John Bol Ajak are going to have a tough time defending Duke’s power players. Atkinson got to the line 12 times for the Irish; Georgia Tech had 17 attempts. Syracuse’s best chance comes with three point shooting. If either Boeheim or Swider or Girard goes full Kihei, Duke will have a problem.

And that will be magnified by the immense crowd. Syracuse has struggled to be sure, but no one would deny this: Orange fans are immensely passionate. They love their team and they cheer hard. If Duke struggles, especially late, the fans can take the team home. It’s a very difficult place to play and they get really excited when Duke is in the house.

So it may appear that things really favor Duke and on paper they do. Unfortunately, you can’t quantify emotion and that’s likely to be a major factor in this game.