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Game Preview: Duke Blue Devils vs. Syracuse Orange

By February 13, 2015April 20th, 2015No Comments


Game Preview

Duke Blue Devils (21-3, 8-3] vs. Syracuse Orange (16-8, 7-4]

Saturday, February 14, 2015 • 6:15 PM • ESPN • Syracuse, NY • Carrier Dome

By Randy Dunson

1. Snapshot


Duke (21-3, 8-3) travels to upstate New York to face Syracuse (16-8, 7-4) Saturday, February 14 at the Carrier Dome. Tipoff is set for 6:15 PM with Dan Shulman (play-by-play), Jay Bilas (analyst) and Shannon Spake (sideline) calling the action for ESPN. The Blue Devils enter the game ranked No. 4 in the AP Poll and No. 5 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Duke is 70-15 when ranked No. 4 in the AP Poll. Syracuse is unranked in both polls. Duke, Kansas, and Virginia are the only teams in the NCAA to rank in the top 10 of the AP Poll (No. 4), USA Today Coaches Poll (No. 5), Ratings Percentage Index (No. 5), and Strength of Schedule (No. 7). Duke is looking to match its ninth-best start through 25 games in program history. The Blue Devils are playing their second straight road contest and fifth game in the past seven away from Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke is 10-2 in road or neutral site games this season.


For the second straight season, the Duke at Syracuse game is a sellout at the Carrier Dome. The crowd of 35,446 will tie the NCAA record for largest on-campus crowd, set at last year’s game. An NCAA record for combined coaching wins, 1,968, will be established with Syracuse’s Coach Boeheim (964) and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (1,004). The pairing features two of the top five winningest programs in NCAA history, # 4 Duke (2,048 wins) and #5 Syracuse (1,919). Syracuse comes into the game following a 70-56 victory at Boston College on Wednesday. The all-time series between the schools is tied at 3-3. The two teams split last year’s encounters, Syracuse won at home, 91-89 in overtime, and Duke claimed a 66-60 triumph in Durham.
2. Last Time Out


In its last outing, Duke posted a 73-70 win over Florida State Monday behind terrific guard play from Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones as the backcourt tandem combined for 42 points in the win. Cook knocked down four three-point field goals and finished with a season-high 26 points, while Jones had 16 points, six rebounds and a season-best 12 assists. Jahlil Okafor went 5-of-5 from the field and finished with 13 points, four rebounds, and two blocks, while Justise Winslow had 10 points, five rebounds, and two steals. Duke was 20-of-26 (.769) from the foul line, including 15-of-19 (.769) from the charity stripe in the second half of play.

Game Notes

  • Duke started 21-3 during the 2003 and 1999 seasons (since 1996).
  • The win over Florida State extended the Duke winning streak to four games.
  • The Blue Devils have won three close games this season (a win by five or fewer points). Since 2009, Duke is 29-14 in close games.
  • The Blue Devils have won 89 percent of the time this season (8-1) after recording 20 or more free throws made.
  • Duke has won 88 percent of the time this season (14-2) after committing 10 or fewer turnovers.
  • Duke has won 93 percent of the time this season (13-1) when opponents record 31 or fewer rebounds.
  • This season Duke has won 85 percent of the time (17-3) when Jahlil Okafor has 13 points or more, 100 percent of the time (6-0) when Justise Winslow plays 33 minutes or more, and 100 percent of the time (4-0) when Tyus Jones has six field goals made or more.
  • Duke set a season low for steals (3).
  • The Blue Devils have recorded more blocks than their opponents for the past four games.
  • Tyus Jones recorded a team season high in assists with 12.
  • Quinn Cook accounted for 35.6 percent of the team’s points.
  • Cook has led the team in scoring in six out of 24 games this season.
  • This marks the 10th 20-point game of Quinn Cook’s career.
  • This game was the second double-digit assist game of Tyus Jones’s career.
  • T. Jones recorded a double-double. It was the second of his career.
  • Justise Winslow has five straight double-digit point games.
  • This was the second foul out of the season for Winslow.
  • Jahlil Okafor has 24 straight double-digit point games.


In its last outing, Syracuse squared off with Boston College on Wednesday, February. 11 and got a victory on the road against the Eagles 70-56 in conference play. The Orange remain unbeaten against Boston College this season at 2-0. The Orange got the win with a game-high 21 points and seven rebounds (4 AST, 4 STL) from Michael Gbinije who transferred from Duke due to lack of playing time. Trevor Cooney had 15 points and added three rebounds.

Game Notes

  • Syracuse started 16-8 during the 2007, 2006, and 1998 seasons (since 1996).
  • The Orange have won every game this season (4-0) after recording nine or more three-pointers.
  • Syracuse has won every game this season (7-0) when its three-point percentage has been 39.1 percent or better.
  • SU has won every game this season (8-0) when opponents record 56 or fewer total points.
  • SU has won 76 percent of the time this season (13-4) after holding an opponent to under 42.9 percent field goal percentage.
  • This season Syracuse has won 75 percent of the time (9-3) when Trevor Cooney has 15 points or more, 73 percent of the time (8-3) when Kaleb Joseph plays 32 minutes or more, and 86 percent of the time (6-1) when Michael Gbinije has seven rebounds or more.
  • Syracuse has recorded fewer assists than their opponents for the past five games.
  • The top two scorers (Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney) accounted for 51.4 percent of the points.
  • Rakeem Christmas accounted for 30.3 percent of the team’s rebounds.
  • Gbinije has led the team in scoring in seven out of 24 games this season.
  • Christmas has led the team in rebounding in 12 out of 24 games this season.
  • Cooney has six straight double-digit point games.
  • Christmas recorded the 17th double-digit rebound game of his career.
  • This marks the third 20-point game of Michael Gbinije’s career.
  • Gbinije has four straight double-digit point games.
  • Gbinije had a career high with four steals.

3. Head-to-Head

The all-time record series tied 3-3. Under Coach K, the series tied 2-2. At the Carrier Dome Duke trails 0-1. In the last meeting Duke won 66-60 on February 22, 2014. Duke split a pair of games last season with each team winning at home. Both games last season were decided by a combined eight points, including a two point overtime Duke loss at the Carrier Dome. Jim Boeheim scored 15 points in a 91-81 loss to Duke March 12, 1966 in the first meeting between the two schools.

In terms of a few key offensive and defensive statistical parameters, Duke has the edge in the majority of the categories, which give the Blue Devils a solid statistical edge head-to-head.


Duke 2014-15 Regular Season Key Stats Comparison Syracuse
80.3 (+15.7) PPG (Scoring Margin) 69.6 (+7.2)
64.6 Opponents PPG 62.4
56.4 Effective FG% 48.6
49.8 FG% 44.1
42.8 Opponent FG% 39.4
37.8 3PT FG% 31.6
31.9 Opponent 3PT FG% 31.0
37.8 (+6.9) RPG (Rebound Margin) 37.5 (+3.0)
30.8 Opponent RPG 34.6
15.3 APG 15.6
7.1 SPG 8.5
11.0 (+1.5) Turnovers Per Game (Margin) 12.1 (+2.2)
12.5 Opponent TOPG 14.3
3.8 BPG 5.2


4. Four Factors to Winning

[If you wish to learn more about how the four factors are calculated and implemented, a description can always be found here, https://www.dukeblogger.com/four-factors-winning/.]

 Duke-Cuse G1 4Fs

Duke has the edge over Syracuse in all factors. When it comes to getting to the free throw line, the edge is 43.0% vs. 35.9%. Duke’s edge in offensive rebounding is 37.5% vs. 34.2%, shooting the ball more efficiently (eFG%) at 56.4% vs. 48.6%, and handling the ball better (16.5% vs. 18.0%).

5. Key Points to Consider

First, a few points regarding both team’s overall profile at this point:


  • Two main scorers (Cook/Okafor); Jones/Winslow close behind
  • Makes the most of its possessions
  • Hard to score against
  • Doesn’t send teams to the line often
  • Highly efficient attack


  • Two main scorers (Christmas/Cooney)
  • Stingy defense
  • Commits few fouls

Now, a few key points to consider. These may often carry over to future games but keys specific to a current opponent will always be mentioned.

  • Battle of the ‘Bigs’
    • See below for the matchup of Okafor and Christmas
  • Winslow vs.Gbinije
    • Gbinije transferred from Duke due to lack of playing time & was Quinn Cook’s roommate.
    • Winslow, a freshman, may have his hands full with the now seasoned Gbinije, particularly given his play as of late
  • Foul Shooting
    • Duke has come close to putting itself in holes all year with poor shots at the line
    • They need to be more precise particularly when K goes into what I call his motion stall offense

6. Endgame

Syracuse is down to eight scholarship players and off court distractions regarding NCAA violations are adding to their issues on the court. The Orange used five players exclusively in their 70-56 win at Boston College Wednesday with a sixth playing 11 minutes. Syracuse was victorious despite co-league leading scorer senior Rakeem Christmas ( 20 PPG ) scoring just seven points. Syracuse shot 49% FG in victory, but understand that BC is tied for the worst FG% defense in the ACC allowing 46% and 70 PPG. The Eagles only shoot 40% in league play, and now the Orange face a Duke team that ranks top-10 in the country in effective FG% and adjusted offensive efficiency while scoring 75 PPG and shooting 47% FG in league play.

Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor ( 18 PPG ) is #2 in league rebounding with 10 per game and leads the league in shooting at 62% FG. Fellow freshman Justice Winslow ( 11 PPG, 6 RPG ) and athletic Amile Jefferson ( 8 PPG, 7 RPG ) give Duke a sizeable edge inside in this conference skirmish.

The Orange offense is inefficient this season with sub-par shooting from the perimeter. The Orange do lead the league in steals, but Duke protects the ball well and has a +6 per game rebounding advantage over the Orange. Syracuse’s 2-3 zone forces long possessions, but Duke has the perimeter players in Quinn Cook and PG Tyus Jones to shoot over the zone and dribble-drive to open outside looks and feed Okafor inside. Three-point shooting is one of the most volatile aspects of predicting the outcome of college basketball games, but unless the league’s top 3-point shooter Michael Gbinije ( 48% arch ) can get hot from the outside with his Orange teammates, it is doubtful seeing Syracuse staying with Duke.

Duke solved the mystery of the zone last season in both matchups. Their ability to move the ball quickly and efficiently forces the zone to rotate faster than they would like, leaving certain spots vulnerable.

Combine that with Duke’s bigs being able to handle and pass, and you have a recipe for success against the Orange 2-3 zone.

As noted above, the backcourt combination of Cook and Jones will be tough for Syracuse to handle. The quickness of both with the ability of both to hit from the outside may force the Orange to pick their poison. Jones will be a particularly tough matchup as he can do so many things with the ball. He has exceptional court vision and floor awareness, both of which are ideal for attacking the zone.

On the inside, Okafor will certainly test Rakeem Christmas. With much of the offense flowing through Duke’s center, Christmas has to be smart in order to stay out of foul trouble. If the Blue Devils are successful in getting Christmas off the court with early fouls, Okafor will torch redshirt freshman Chinonso Obokoh inside.

Justice Winslow and Amile Jefferson round out the frontcourt for Duke. Both are extremely athletic, and Jefferson had a very productive game in the Dome last season.

Duke will attack the glass hard, making sophomore forward Tyler Roberson’s presence critical for Syracuse. He has to be productive and prevent the Blue Devils from having second or third opportunities. Roberson is even more important because when sophomore forward B.J. Johnson comes into the game, Syracuse has a serious size disadvantage.

The key for Syracuse is to push out on the shooters, stay smart in their rotations and trap when given the opportunity. The Orange may have to force turnovers in this one in order to get some easy buckets and gain momentum.

Duke loves to play aggressive, in your face man defense. This season (past seasons as well), however, they have been sprinkling in some zone looks.

Syracuse generally gets consistent production from only three players. Rakeem Christmas, Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney. They need each to play at a high level to pull off the win for the Orange. Gbinije has been lighting it up as of late, sparked by his increased aggression attacking the rim. Seeing how Winslow guards him will be an interesting factor to watch.

Trevor Cooney will likely be followed by Cook. Cooney is arguably Syracuse’s best outside shooter, and Duke will make sure they do not give him any easy looks. Cooney will have to adjust by using ball screens, off the ball movement and the dribble drive to create some space.

Syracuse will look to establish Rakeem Christmas in this one, Feeding him in the low-post and getting some early production will open up the rest of the floor for Cooney, Gbinije and others.

Maybe the most critical matchup on this end of the floor will be Tyus Jones versus freshman guard Kaleb Joseph. Two true freshman point guards on a big stage. Joseph has struggled with decision-making and unforced turnovers this season, while Jones has been very steady for the Blue Devils. Jones is a skilled defender and will pressure Joseph throughout. Joseph is coming off of a strong second half against Boston College, and will look to continue that against Duke. He will have to be solid for the Orange to have a chance.

Syracuse is the underdog here, no question about it. Duke has more depth (well, that could be disputed) and talent on the roster. The Blue Devils are more versatile on both ends of the floor and are a legitimate national championship contender. Syracuse has the crowd and the environment on their side. This bunch seems to like playing the underdog role. This will be a good game in front of 35,000-plus Orange fans, but don’t expect this matchup to eclipse last year’s captivating finish. Duke wins in the sold out Carrier Dome by double digits, 75-64.

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