After taking down Pitt thanks to a second half blitz, Syracuse gets set to face another team for the third time. But with a hungry Duke team that’s returning its best player on the other side, the challenge becomes infinitely more daunting. SU has hung with Duke both times this season while the Blue Devils sat first in the country. While these teams have met up twice already, each starting lineup has seen multiple twists in every meeting, and tonight is no different.
Since Zion Williamson’s injury, Duke has slipped to fifth in the country. But now, the Orange is facing the iteration of the Blue Devils ranked closer to the nation’s best than fifth. A number of factors will have to go right to for SU’s upset bid.
Return of Zion
So now that we know Williamson is back, what exactly are we going to see? All indications point to the fact that he is fully healthy and the only thing holding him back is getting into “game shape.” Will he be fully ready to go in that regard? Or are we going to see a Zion that’s a step slower? This makes all the difference in the world. Around the rim, he’s as unstoppable as the game has ever seen. The freshman tortured the Orange inside the paint with an 11-for-14 performance in the paint. But when SU forced him outside, he was 1-for-5 shooting. There seems to be only one hole in Williamson’s game. He is just a 29 percent three point shooter. If Williamson can’t get through the teeth of the zone and forces up some mid-range jumpers, then the Orange can take him out of the scoring department. But Zion’s no one-trick pony. He can rebound with the best of them despite his 6-foot-7 frame, including a 10 rebound performance against SU. If Zion turns into a scrapper, he will still impact the team offensively by creating second opportunities for his other talented teammates.
Compensate for no Battle
With Tyus Battle out last night and still “two or three days away” from playing again, according to Jim Boeheim, SU will be scrambling for offense again. Last night we saw outside contributions from all over en route to Syracuse’s blowout against Pitt. Three players had 18 points or more, including a career night from Buddy Boeheim with 20 points. It will be tough to replicate that against Duke. But even if they do, 73 points may not be enough against the Blue Devils. This is the first time SU will see all four talented freshman on the floor at once for Duke. It will be imperative for Syracuse’s four offensive options to all be clicking, or it could be a long night.
Three point shootout
Last night was another three point showcase for the Orange away from the Dome. In five of the Orange’s seven wins away from home, they have hit at least 10 threes. In their six losses, four of them have featured six makes or less. Meanwhile, Duke is the worst three point shooting team in the conference at 30.6 percent. But we have seen the Blue Devils shoot their way in and out of games this year against Syracuse. In SU’s win, Duke shot 9-for-43 (20.9 percent) from three. In their win, they shot 9-for-29 (31 percent) which isn’t anything special. But the first half was a big reason why they struggled. Duke went 3-for-15 (20 percent) in the first half, but 6-for-14 (42 percent) in the second half. So it makes sense why the Blue Devils outscored the Orange by 15 in the second half, en route to a 10 point win.
Last night the Orange faithful was out in full force. But now that SU is essentially in Duke’s backyard, that “homecourt” feel has suddenly flipped. There will be a Carolina heavy crowd as well as the crop of fans that want to see Zion, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish before they go pro. Yesterday, we saw the young Pitt players talk smack on the court all night long and control the first half. If Syracuse lets the moment get in their heads, it will be a lot tougher to come back against these youngsters from Duke.