ACC Basketball

Syracuse vs. Duke, Part IV

(Dennis Nett |

The Duke Blue Devils have won eight straight, including wins over Virginia, Notre Dame and North Carolina. However, they’ve also tended to play down to their competition, struggling with Georgia Tech, Florida State and Virginia Tech. The latter they needed a second-half rally and overtime to earn a 91-86 win.

Syracuse hasn’t won two in a row since January 13, but their last two wins have been impressive. They handled Louisville at home on February 18, earning a 10-point win. Yet, on Tuesday the Orange had their best win of the year, going into South Bend and owning Notre Dame, 65-60.


In the Carrier Dome back on February 14, Syracuse came out on fire, hitting 15 of their first 29 shots, yet the Blue Devils reversed their fortunes with a 26-7 run to end the first half, begin the second half with a combination of hitting threes (in the first half) and attacking the basket (in the second half). Jahlil Okafor finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds, while Quinn Cook added 17. Michael Gbinije was amazing, scoring 26 points, hitting 10-for-14 from the floor, as Rakeem Christmas struggled, hitting just 5 of 17 shots, finishing with just 11 points and 6 boards.


  • It’s Jahlil Okafor vs. Rakeem Christmas, part two. In that first meeting, both big men struggled in the first half, but Duke’s big guy was able to awake in the second as Jones, Winslow and Cook began to attack the paint, giving Okafor open looks. Christmas never got that help and once Gbinije cooled a bit, he was forced to battle inside for tough shots (missing 12), all while trying to avoid fouling out. Look for both teams to establish their big men early and often.
  • There are plenty of big names and big scorers in this game (Okafor, Winslow, Gbinije, Christmas), but the most important on the floor may be Quinn Cook. He is playing his best ball right now and is fifth in scoring in conference play, averaging 16.9 points per game. Unlike teammates Winslow and Tyus Jones, the senior guard does most of his damage from deep, hitting on 15 of his last 27 from behind the arc. More importantly, he seems to recognize the big moment and when he needs to step up. It was his shooting that got them back in the Hokies game and his final three was the game decider. If anything, Cook needs to be more aggressive and take more shots. After Duke’s big run against Virginia Tech, he took just one shot during a 8-minute stretch before the game winner.
  • To beat Duke in Durham, you have to shoot. Against Virginia Tech, Coach K decided to pressure the ball handler and it failed, as the Hokies’ guards simply beat their man to the lane and found open shooters outside. Against Syracuse, I expect Duke to back off. The Orange have struggled to put the ball in the hole the last two months and will need people to hit baskets, especially since Michael Gbinije has come back to earth (just 6-for-17 in his last two games, 1-for-5 from deep). B.J. Johnson has been aggressive lately, scoring 30 the previous two games, after barely playing the month of February. Yet, it’s Trevor Cooney that needs to find his stroke. He’s been a terrible, awful three-point shooter over the last month and a half, but against the Figthing Irish, he did his damage in the paint (4-for-5) inside the arc. He’ll have a size advantage over either Cook or Jones, so he needs to again take advantage of that.
  • At this point, if Duke isn’t playing UNC, Virginia, Notre Dame or Louisville, it’s a trap game, but Syracuse remains the most dangerous of those traps. First, they are looking for revenge after a tough loss at home this season, plus losing that controversial one in Durham last year. On top of that, they’re coming off their best win of the year and let’s face it, they have nothing to lose. They have three more games left and their season is done.
  • So which Tyus Jones will show up? When facing the elite, he’s been one of the best players in college basketball; 17 against Michigan St, 22 against Wisconsin, 21 against Connecticut, 17 against Virginia and 22 against North Carolina. However, he’s coming off a 7-point effort against Virginia Tech. Granted, he’s always been a pass-first point guard, dishing out 44 assists to 16 turnovers in his last five games, but the Blue Devils are most efficient when he’s a scoring threat, particularly when he attacks the rim.

Syracuse is going to be motivate, but while Duke plays down to their competition, they also play up to it. Rebounding and defense will continue to be a problem for the Blue Devils, but at home, they can easily outscore their foes.


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