No postseason? No problem.
March without Syracuse basketball is only a minor setback ramping up for something big next year. If anything, a postseason ban has motivated this team to gear up for take off, and it has started early.
Syracuse beat two ranked teams in a span of five days, including one against a team in the Top 10 in Notre Dame, and on the road. Both tasks are impressive, considering this team has struggled all year and will not play in the postseason. There is one more task this team has to accomplish to really prove it is gearing up to make a major splash next year: Beat Duke.
Coming off the eight point loss to the Blue Devils two weeks ago in a game in which Syracuse held a lead for much of the first half, the Orange is much hungrier to beat the Blue Devils on their home court.
One of the biggest issues in that game was Rakeem Christmas not making the short buckets in the paint, which he has done all year. After the game, Jahlil Okafor said he thinks Christmas will be able to make those shots more effectively in the second time against Duke.
Christmas finished with 11 points in that game, but Michael Gbinije and Tyler Roberson picked up much of the slack for the Orange. It is key for not only Gbinije and Roberson to keep playing the way they have, but for Christmas to bounce back and be more of a figure in the paint against the athletic Okafor. Having seen him play in a game, Christmas knows more and more of what type of player Okafor is.
Perhaps the biggest key for this game is not only those three having strong games, but the continued play of B.J. Johnson. The sophomore matched a career-high 19 points against the Fighting Irish and even without his teammates being in foul trouble, it is important for him to continue to be an active player off the bench.
A win against Duke gives SU more and more of that motivation it needs before next year. The goal now is to go into the offseason and look at how well it played. For two seasons, SU has had a so-called collapse at the end of the year when it started strong. Now it has won two of its last three, both against top tier opponents.
Posted: Austin Pollack