On the off chance that anyone affiliated with Duke men’s basketball regards Syracuse to be a worthy rival, yesterday’s 77-55 throttling at the JMA Wireless Dome should quash those notions for good.
No matter how hard its student body pretends that the Blue Devils consider them equals, SU has become little more than an annuity for Duke. The Orange are an ATM machine from which the Blue Devils withdraw extra confidence at their leisure. After yesterday’s embarrassment, the series history since January 2019 is bleak: Duke 8, Syracuse 0.
On hand to witness the latest Syracuse-Duke “battle” was ESPN luminary Dick Vitale. Vitale’s return this year from a 2021 lymphoma diagnosis continues to inspire, and his presence in the Dome was a welcome, exciting sight. Despite the dark clouds that have followed head coach Jim Boeheim and the Orange this year, Vitale injected some much-needed life into a venue and faded matchup that badly needed it.
Vitale has seen the better days the JMA Dome used to house. Someone so synonymous with college basketball has watched a staggering array of talent over the years, and yesterday’s matchup featured some more – including one particular first-year name that caught Vitale’s eye.
For all that Syracuse couldn’t do right against Duke yesterday, freshman guard Judah Mintz was not part of the problem. The Maryland native continued his shining first-year campaign with 18 points on 7-of-16 shooting, tallied three steals, and ignited the crowd early in the first half with a pair of dunks. The game marked another solid performance for Mintz, whose consistency and versatility have been leaned on in a top-heavy lineup. However, it remains an open question as to just how many more games SU fans will get to see Mintz in an Orange uniform.
Mintz’s talent is such that it’s all but certain he won’t spend more than two years as a collegiate player. Whether he plays a second year at all, much less at Syracuse, is still a matter of open debate. For his part, Mintz has not had to field questions about his near future and seems content with life at ‘Cuse. He has not hinted one iota at the possibility of transferring. Unless Mintz has a secret burning desire to play for a title contender, there aren’t many other factors that would push him toward the portal. Mintz is a consistent starter and plays almost every minute (unlike former departures like Kadary Richmond) and is rarely criticized harshly by Boeheim.
Vitale’s point on Mintz isn’t that SU’s guard isn’t good enough for the NBA. Instead, it’s an exciting suggestion that Mintz still has yet to reach his full potential. That may sound redundant for a player with just 27 collegiate games under his belt, but consider another player who had similar early NBA ambitions only to stay in college and thrive.
Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis was a star at IU in 2020-21, even as his team disintegrated around him. Jackson-Davis started every game for the Hoosiers and put up over 19 points per game for a squad that finished 12-15 and got former head coach Archie Miller fired. With most of the team looking toward the portal, Jackson-Davis looked like a surefire bet to leave for the NBA Draft. When current head coach Mike Woodson arrived in March 2021, he recognized Jackson-Davis’ flaws and challenged the star forward to stay at Indiana to work on his game. Woodson’s proposal to think long-term instead of toward a short-term NBA jump spoke to Jackson-Davis, who elected to stay at Indiana within a month of Woodson’s hiring. Fast forward to today, and the man nicknamed “TJD” is a true game-breaker and one of the best players in college basketball.
Jackson-Davis was older and had more accolades than Mintz currently does by the time the former pivoted from a draft declaration. The two are vastly different players, but Vitale’s assessment of Mintz provides a little intrigue. If Mintz returns for Year 2, could he too iron out his flaws (namely outside shooting) and raise his draft stock? Only Mintz knows his own plan, but his decisions will have wide-ranging repercussions for SU and its program.