Syracuse takes on Duke in Sweet 16 matchup

Preview: Syracuse vs. Duke

After winning three games in five days, the Orange face a familiar foe.
Published: March 23, 2018 | Updated: April 2nd, 2018 at 1:23 pm
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Duke beat Syracuse, 60-44, at Cameron Indoor Stadium in their last matchup on Feb. 24.

OMAHA, Neb.— Syracuse basketball: Either you love it or you hate it. I am between both.

Covering the Syracuse men’s basketball team as Lead Sports Producer offered me an insight into a defensive scheme few can match, even when the offense has struggled for many parts of the year.

The 2-3 zone and Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim can stifle even the toughest offense. In the last three Syracuse wins, the zone limited teams averaging 80-plus points per game to 56, 52 and 53, respectively. During the 55-53 win over Michigan State, Syracuse forwards Oshae Brissett and Marek Dolezaj prevented Wooden Award finalist Miles Bridges from getting hot. The Spartan sophomore finished his final game of the season shooting 25 percent from 3-point range with 11 points. In Michigan State’s opening round win against Bucknell, Bridges had led all scorers with 29 points.

But the zone hasn’t always prevented teams from scoring, most notably when Boston College dropped 85 in Chestnut Hill, Mass., and North Carolina State scored 74 in the Carrier Dome. The length of Tyus Battle and Frank Howard helps the Orange defense, but Syracuse (23-11, 8-10 Atlantic Coast) needed until Selection Sunday to be certain of its NCAA Tournament fate. A team that went through adversity at times found itself with a chance to play in March.

Does it matter that they won three games in five days? Does it justify their placement in the tournament over ACC foe Notre Dame, non-Power 5 schools like St. Mary’s or others that didn’t hear their name?

It doesn’t matter.

Syracuse has a chance today to make the Elite Eight for the third time in six years. That’s impressive, and a kudos for Boeheim, the system and the players. But there’s a familiar foe in its way.

Duke University.

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski called Boeheim his “best friend in coaching,” and has replicated the Syracuse zone with his team. Duke (28-7, 13-5 ACC) starts four freshmen, including Wooden award finalist Marvin Bagley III. Their fifth player, Grayson Allen, is a competitor (despite some issues last year with tripping, but that’s not worth bringing up right now).

These two schools will face off for the 12th time in their histories with a spot against Kansas or Clemson in the Elite Eight awaiting. Here are my thoughts on how both (yes, both) teams will win.

Syracuse wins if:

BIG THREE: Battle, Howard and Brissett will need to compete for all 40 minutes and make plays on offense and defense. At times this season, the focus has been on one of these playmakers. With Brissett averaging 17 points so far in the NCAA Tournament, there’s a chance we see a similar performance by the freshman Canadian. But they will need to make stops on defense, too.

DEFENSE: Duke did not make a 3-pointer until the second half in the previous contest on Feb. 24. If SU is going to win, it’ll need to limit Duke again from outside of 3-point range and force Gary Trent Jr. to take shots.

ARMS UP: Syracuse centers Paschal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibe found themselves in foul trouble against Michigan State, and they did a good job not fouling out of that game. Duke will go inside with Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr., so Sidibe and Chukwu need to keep their arms up and stay out of foul trouble.

Duke wins if:

REPLICATE: If the Duke zone prevents Syracuse from getting hot and finding open looks, it can limit them to fewer than 50 points. That’s what happened on Feb. 24, and if Syracuse is held to less than 40 percent shooting, then Duke’s strength inside will give them an easier chance.

COOL BLUE: With lots of upsets occurring throughout March Madness, Duke needs to look past the 2 vs. 11 matchup and forget the rankings. Allen and Bagley III touched upon this on Thursday, but it may change once the teams hit the floor.

PRESS: Syracuse has usually taken out some press in the past, and while numbers on the bench are scarce, they may try and press the Blue Devils. The Blue Devils cannot panic, as they won’t have the same home crowd as they did in February to get them past any pressure.

PREDICTION:

Coach Boeheim vs. Coach K. Syracuse vs. Duke. While it doesn’t have the same history as other rivalries, a conference matchup with memories on both sides will be meaningful. Syracuse needs to do more than Duke to win this game, but Duke has yet to be tested in the Tournament. Will Syracuse keep its momentum and grab another big win over its newest rival? Yes.

Syracuse 54 Duke 52

Avatar for Will Muoio

is a newspaper and online journalism and political science senior, plus Sports Lead Producer for The NewsHouse.