Logan Grossman: Duke 70, Syracuse 55
I have picked the Orange to lose every game so far and, obviously, they’ve won them all. So why stop now? But in all seriousness, the Blue Devils offer something that none of Syracuse’s other opponents brought: knowledge of the 2-3 zone. Duke plays zone on over 80% of their defensive possessions and Coach K swiped the system from his good friend. Throw on top of that that Duke has the potential to explode from three point land and you have a recipe for a Cuse loss.
Tyler Aki: Duke 67, Syracuse 61
If me picking against the Orange is what’s propelling this run, then why not one more time. I’ll fall on my sword again for an improbable run to the Elite Eight. But seriously, this game is going to be a lot closer than any expert or Vegas thinks. Both of these teams are very different from the last time they met, most notably Syracuse. First of all, the previous meeting between these teams was SU’s lowest offensive output since 2013. While the tournament has not provided much to be confident about on that front, this team is better than 44 points. The big three of Oshae Brissett, Tyus Battle and Frank Howard struggled immensely in that game. I think it’s more likely that all three are clicking today than all three are stumbling. Ever since this tournament started, SU has been on a defensive terror by holding the nation’s offensive elites under 60 points. Now the Orange isn’t doing much scoring themselves, but it’s been enough to scrap by. Duke is another beast, though. The Blue Devils are the most talented team on paper and are neck-and-neck with Villanova for the best team remaining in this tournament. Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter caused problems for Syracuse down low last meeting, and will likely do so again. If Syracuse can somehow contain those two, while also staying out of foul trouble, then the Orange has a real shot to pull off another upset. But if the Duke bigs feast, then the Blue Devils will no doubt be moving on to the Elite Eight.
Drew Carter: Duke 67, Syracuse 59
I’m 3-for-3 on the reverse jinx in this Tournament, so let’s keep it rolling. At this point, I’m all in on Syracuse, and this may sound like a cop-out, but I would pick the Orange against all but three teams left in the field. Unfortunately, Duke is one of them. The Blue Devils are one of only two schools that rank inside KenPom’s top-10 on both sides of the floor, and their zone is no fluke. When Jim Boeheim says a zone is “really effective,” it’s like Picasso calling a painting “really beautiful” — if the master approves, you know it’s legit. On the other end, Duke moves the ball well, shoots the ball well, and hammers the offensive glass better than any team in the country. Throw in the fact that rail-thin Paschal Chukwu and injured (and also rail-thin) Bourama Sidibe are tasked with slowing down a transcendent scoring talent in Marvin Bagley III and his behemoth of a frontcourt partner in Wendell Carter, and this feels like a mismatch. But here’s the thing: everything I just said applied to the Michigan State game, as well. Remember how Duke is the one of two teams in the top-10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency? The Spartans are the other, and their strengths mirror those of the Blue Devils. The key difference in this round, though, is that Coach K’s group a) knows the zone and b) has been preparing for a week instead of 48 hours. The ‘Cuse controls the pace and mucks up the game for the fourth round in a row, but the Wicked Witch of the ACC pulls away at the end.
David Edelstein: Duke 62, Syracuse 55
March Madness is full of surprises, and Syracuse has been one of them so far. This game, however, will go according to standard status quo. Duke has been a powerhouse all year, and there is little chance that SU can slow the Blue Devils’ offense enough to give its own offense a chance to outscore them. This is a solid Duke team that already has experience against the Orange’s 2-3 zone, unlike other teams in the NCAA Tournament that might have been surprised and confused by it. Duke has the advantage in this one. A Syracuse win might end everyone’s efforts to ever make an accurate prediction again.
JD Raucci: Duke 67, Syracuse 53
Well, I’ve been completely off in each of the last two games, but, hey it’s March Madness right? This time more than ever though, I’m feeling good about this pick. Back in late February, Syracuse showed it had no answer offensively against a much-improved Duke defense and it really hasn’t shown much on that end of the floor since, so I don’t think that’ll be changing in this game. Defensively, SU has looked stellar in the tournament, but they haven’t faced a combo like Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter. Both guys are absolute animals on the interior and made the inside of the zone look like mincemeat when they combined for 35 points on 13-20 shooting. I don’t really see that changing this time around either. In fact, I think it could be a bit worse considering how good this Duke team has looked thus far in the tournament. In the end, the talent for Duke is just too much, SU gets in foul trouble early and the Cinderella run ends in Omaha.
Tim Leonard: Duke 61 Syracuse 54
Who even knows what to think of this team anymore? I’m still not sure how Syracuse managed to get by Michigan State despite giving up 29 offensive rebounds and dealing with all that foul trouble. Now the Orange gets Duke, who’s actually familiar with the zone and perhaps even more talented. Like the MSU game, all logic tells me talent wins out here. It makes sense for Bagley to go wild, grab plenty of offensive boards and help Duke cruise to an easy victory like it did in February. But, my gut, on the other hand, tells me there’s no way this Syracuse team goes down without a fight. It’s going to be another grind of a game. Both teams milk clock and limit possessions with their zone defenses. So with all that in mind, I think Syracuse has a shot. But, at the end of the day, I think the magical run comes to an end.
Jonathon Hoppe: Duke 72, Syracuse 59
This is the second straight game I’ve picked SU to lose in somewhat of a blowout, and we all know how the first game turned out. Will the strategy work again? I doubt it. Even though Michigan State was a darn good team, Duke is better. Not only do they have better players, but the Blue Devils are led by possibly the best coach of all-time with almost a week to prepare. On Sunday, the Spartans failed to convert on several grade A opportunities. Ironically, Duke did the same when the teams met in February. However, that was then and this is now. I know the 2-3 zone is on a whole new level, but so is the Duke offense. Syracuse will score more points (44) than it did the first time around, but it won’t be enough to get the win on Friday.