Duke (17-4, 6-2) – Syracuse (20-0, 7-0) Preview
Randy Dunson & Brian Horace
February 1, 2014
For a team that was ranked to finish 2nd in the ACC preseason poll, Syracuse (SU) has thus far exceeded those expectations and more. The Orange are currently ranked No. 2 in both the Associated Press Poll and the USA Today Coaches’ Poll and have been ranked in 89 straight AP polls. This is most definitely a premier event for both schools being the first meeting of both in the ACC, but the game is special for Syracuse at the Carrier Dome as it will set the SU record for attendance with a sold out, capacity crowd of 35,446 expected to attend. There are definitely plenty of story lines in play for this game. Along with the record crowd, the two winningest coaches in Division I college basketball history, Jim Boeheim (940) and Mike Krzyzewski (974) will be at their respective helms. Syracuse has tied a program record for consecutive wins to start a season at 20. They are one of three unbeaten teams in the Division I ranks. It is the first time SU and Duke have met in the Carrier Dome and the first meeting between the two since the 1998 NCAA’s. Duke is one of four ACC teams Syracuse is playing home-and-home series with this season; Boston College, Miami, and Pittsburgh are the others.
Currently on a five-game winning streak, Duke hopes to pick up another crucial road win when it faces ACC newcomer Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. Duke is ranked No. 17 in the Associated Press Poll and No. 16 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll. Duke is 16-8 all-time when ranked No. 17 in the AP Poll. The Blue Devils are 14-25 all-time against the No. 2 team in the country. The last No. 2 team Duke faced was Louisville in the 2013 NCAA Elite Eight, an 85-63 loss. Duke is 5-4 away from home this season, including a 2-2 record in true road games. Duke has won two straight road games, topping Pittsburgh (80-65) this past Monday and Miami (67-46) on January 22. The Devils are 2-2 against the top 25 this season with wins over No. 22 Michigan and No. 18 Pittsburgh.
Team Seasons Thus Far
With a 67-57 win at Wake Forest on Wednesday, January 29, the Syracuse Orange matched its best start in program history with its 20th straight victory to begin the season. The Orange also won 20 games just two years ago to begin the 2011-12 campaign. SU will look to break the record on Saturday, February 1 against Duke when ESPN College GameDay comes to town. The triumph also extends head coach Jim Boehiem’s NCAA Division I record of 20-win seasons to 36.
Freshman guard Tyler Ennis (12.3 PPG, 5.4 APG) poured in a game-high 18 points to go along with five rebounds and four assists. Senior forward C.J. Fair (16.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG) added 16 points, eight rebounds and three steals while sophomore forward Jerami Grant (12.4 PPG, 6.8) posted his team-best fourth double-double of the season with 10 points and a career high tying 12 boards. SU’s duo in the post, senior forward Baye Moussa Keita (2.2 PPG, 3.7 RPG) and junior forward Rakeem Christmas (5.6 PPG, 4.1 RPG), provided a solid contribution on both ends of the court for the second consecutive game. Keita recorded six points, eight boards and matched a career best with five blocks off the bench. Christmas finished with six points, seven rebounds, and three blocks. Both teams had trouble converting field goals with Syracuse holding a slight edge at 36% vs. 34%. However, the Orange outrebounded Wake 55-35.
Syracuse remains one of three undefeated teams in college basketball, however this game sets up to be a tight contest as Duke has recently been playing their best ball. Syracuse has held 8-straight opponents under 60 points, but the Blue Devils enter as the ACCs top scoring team at 75 PPG in league play. C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant lead the way for the Orange but there is no shortage of supporting players. Syracuse leads the ACC in rebounding margin with 8 per game; a +5 edge over Duke. The Orange set a season high for rebounds (55) against Wake Forest. The last time SU recorded at least 55 rebounds was December 31, 2012 against Central Connecticut State. The Orange also leads the ACC in steals as their aggressive zone defense and athletic players cause confusion and problems for the opposition. SU has recorded more steals than their opponents for the past eight games. They also do a great job at protecting the basketball, averaging less than 9 TOs per game. The top two scorers (Ennis and Fair) account for approximately 41% of Syracuse’s 71.4 PPG. Ennis has led the team in scoring in four out of 20 games this season and Grant has led the team in rebounding in 11 out of 20 games this season. Fair has 16 straight double-digit point games while Ennis has seven straight double-digit point games.
Duke Blue Devils
Duke won its fifth game in a row and second straight ACC road game with a convincing 80-65 win over Pittsburgh on Monday night at the Peterson Events Center in Pittsburgh, PA. The 15-point win was Duke’s fourth straight double-figure victory and the fifth straight game Duke has held the opposition under 70 points. Duke had a 20-point scorer for the 17th time in 21 games, as Jabari Parker scored 21 and Andre Dawkins scored 20. Duke scored 20 second-chance points, marking the third straight game, and fourth time this season, that Duke has gotten at least 20 points on second-chance opportunities. Duke hauled in 11 offensive rebounds on the night, including six by Amile Jefferson. Pitt entered the game with an ACC-leading +9.2 rebounding margin per game, but Duke outrebounded the Panthers 37-32. Duke is only the sixth team to outrebound Pittsburgh this season and the first to do so since NC State logged a +6 margin in their ACC opener. Duke hit a season-high 13-of-25 (.520) three-pointers to log its third highest three-point percentage of the season and highest in ACC play. Five Blue Devils hit a trey, including Andre Dawkins who hit 6-of-7. Dawkins’ .857 clip from three-point range tied the school record held by five other Blue Devils.
Saturday’s contest marks the second straight game in which Duke has played in a venue for the first time. Monday’s meeting with Pittsburgh was Duke’s first trip to the Petersen Events Center, while Saturday’s contest against Syracuse is Duke’s first in the Carrier Dome. Duke’s defense has been strong during its current five-game win streak as the Blue Devils have allowed just 58.4 points per game and held all five opponents to 65 points or fewer. Syracuse, which ranks sixth nationally in points allowed per game (57.8), will be the fifth team Duke has faced this season that ranks among the top 20 nationally in points allowed per game. Duke has topped the opponent scoring averages of all four of the previous teams and is 3-1 in those games with the lone loss coming at Clemson (59-72) on January 11. Duke has also faced Virginia (1st, 56.0 PPG), Miami (11th, 59.3) and Pittsburgh (T-15th, 61.1). Duke has a +11.3 rebound margin over its past four games. Jabari Parker is averaging 11.8 rebounds per game in that four-game stretch, including 5.3 offensive rebounds. He has recorded a double-double in three straight games. His seven double-doubles are the most in the ACC and third most by a Duke freshman. His seven double-figure rebounding games are the fourth most by a Duke freshman. Duke is 10-0 this season and 39-2 in his career when Andre Dawkins scores in double figures. Dawkins has scored 10+ points in three of the past four games. In four games against ranked opponents, Dawkins has hit 9-of-10 (.900) three-point field goals and 11-of-13 (.846) field goals overall. He hit 6-of-7 (.857) three-point shots against No. 18 Pittsburgh Monday to tie the school record for highest three-point percentage in a game. Dawkins and Rodney Hood are the top two three-point shooters in the ACC, sporting shooting percentages of .475 (47-of-99) and .448 (43-of-96), respectively. Duke is shooting an ACC-leading .414 (194-of-469) from three-point range as a team. Amile Jefferson has been Duke’s leading rebounder over the past 13 games, averaging 8.8 rebounds per game during that stretch. Jefferson has at least six rebounds in those 13 games.
Duke & Syracuse have only met four times in five decades with the series tied at 2-2. However, this meeting, the first for both in the same league, has special significance for the Orange’s head coach Jim Boeheim. He was also involved in the first meeting between the two schools back on March 12, 1966 as a player! Playing alongside Dave Bing, Boeheim, a senior at the time, notched 15 points in a 91-81 SU loss. The two schools met again in 1971 in Madison Square Garden, with Boeheim as an assistant coach, which resulted in a 74-72 victory for the Orange. It then took another 18 years for SU and Duke to meet again, as the #1 Orange traveled to Greensboro to take on the #6 Blue Devils in an ACC-Big East Challenge. Mike Krzyzewski and Boeheim were the head coaches for their respective teams. This matchup was another close one with SU coming away with 78-76 victory in the final seconds. The most recent SU vs. Duke meeting took place on March 20th, 1998, when the two squads met in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Blue Devils had the lead for virtually the entire game, but SU went on a big second half, but Duke prevailed, advancing to the Elite 8 with the 80-67 victory.
Four Factors to Winning
The Four Factors to Winning this for this game are very similar to the Pitt guide, where we find that these two teams are very evenly matched on these four factors. Duke once again has a slight edge in shooting (eFG%) at 55.3 vs. 50.4 and ball handling (TO%) at 14.2 vs. 15.3. Syracuse holds an advantage offensive rebounding (OR%) 39.9 vs. 33 and shooting free throws (FT Rate) at 43.3% vs. 41.7.
For Duke in this game it will go beyond statistics. Duke will have to win this game with guts and determination. Duke will have to match the energy in the Carrier Dome that will feed this Syracuse team. Duke will have to play a methodical, smart and consistent game. I expect the Orange to strike fast and hard and take it to Duke. Rebounding is always important but when you break it down it is crucial as is having an efficient offense. The Zone that Syracuse plays is daunting and Duke has faced a few but none with athletes the caliber of what Boeheim is bringing to the table. There is a lot of length and athleticism and Duke will have to balance being too patient and knowing when to be aggressive. Simply passing the ball around the circle will not get it done and it will put Duke in vulnerable situations late in the shot clock. Duke’s use of its big men will need to take a step forward in this game if Duke is going to put itself in position to pull out this victory. Simply shooting overtop of the zone is not the best way to beat it, it is a weapon Duke can use one it establishes that it can score or at least have a competent inside presence. Passing out of the middle of the zone to shooters in position to either score or drive will be important. If the big men for Duke find themselves with 2,3 or 4 assists in this game then that bodes well for the Devils. If they have that same number in the turnover department things can very easily get out of hand. Duke will also need to choke off freshman guard Tyler Ennis. Ennis is a surprise to some who didn’t follow his high school career but he has always been a quiet and steady leader. He is the spark that makes the Syracuse engine go and how Duke contends with the freshmen will go a long way toward determining whether this becomes a signature win for the Orange or for the Devils.
Also, For the Orange this game will go a long way toward shaping how their inaugural ACC season will be viewed going forward. 20 and 0 is a great start to a season but if you do not beat Duke it will most likely leave a bad taste in the mouths of the fan-base. It’s clear from my interactions with ACC fans and Syracuse fans alike that they are sick of getting less attention than the also undefeated Arizona team.
The endgame is very simple, the team that plays this game like it’s a tournament game is the team that will come out on top. The team that feels like it is fighting for its life and is able to harness that urgency instead of letting it take them over is the team that will win. For Duke it will be the toughest test of their new-found success. This game comes at great time for Duke, they are well rested, have had time to prepare and no one should be playing tired. What I will look for is how they handle the crowd, if Duke can tune it out and go about this game and play the 5 guys on the court and not the crowd and the atmosphere come the last 5 minutes of the game they should be in good position.
Duke is, and rightfully so, an underdog in this game. Syracuse is the higher ranked team today, they are the team riding a wave of success both at home and on the road and also with the home crowd. Everything on paper and in the media says Duke loses this game by 7-15 points. I’m going to say they get their act together and shock the world, winning by 5 points on the road in a hostile atmosphere.