The scope for who will be crowned National Champions is becoming more narrowly focused.
Duke and Syracuse have established themselves as two of college basketball most prestigious schools in terms of longevity of success. In the Midwest region this year, four teams currently remain. Of those four teams, two are ACC schools.
Wouldn’t you know it, the two ACC schools set to do battle are none other than the Duke Blue Devils and the Syracuse Orange. This game holds a bit more weight to it however due to the prize being an Elite 8 appearance.
Earlier this season:
I know it doesn’t mean anything now that it is March and these two teams have changed tremendously over the course of the season, but it is worth examining.
Duke and Syracuse played each other less than a month ago on February 24th inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. It was the Blue Devils of Duke who came away with the 60-44 win.
In that game last month, it was freshman sensation Marvin Bagley III who would come off the bench that game and dominate with 19 points on 8-9 shooting while also bringing down seven rebounds.
Throughout the game, Duke was able to find holes in the Orange defense and exploit that. For Syracuse, tournament standouts Oshae Brissett and Tyus Battle were held to 18 points combined in the defeat (Brissett with six and Battle with 12).
How they got here:
It has been a fairly easy tournament for Duke so far.
In their first match-up vs. No. 15 seeded Iona, the Blue Devils dominated the Gaels and won by a score of 89-67. It was Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr., and Bagley III that carried the way for Duke with 47 combined points.
The following game Duke continued their dominance by defeating No. 7 seeded Rhode Island 87-62. In the Rhode Island game, Trent Jr. and Bagley III were the ones who set the tone with 18 points from Trent Jr. and 22 from Bagley III.
It has been a grind it out tournament for Syracuse who has won the most games in this year’s tournament so far (three, due to a play-in game).
In these three games, the margin of victory has never exceeded five points (four points vs. Arizona State, five points vs. TCU, and two points vs. Michigan State).
This Syracuse team has tightened up their defense and has restricted teams and players (Miles Bridges) in this tournament from exceeding the 60-point mark. A game that stays low scoring and the pace remains slow is the kind of game that Syracuse looks for.
The 6’9″ Freshman Slovakian forward Marek Dolezaj was crucial in their upset in the first round vs. TCU as he totaled a game-high 17 points. The following game vs. heavily favored Michigan State, Battle, and Brissett were the catalysts in getting the Orange into the Sweet 16. Battle would score a game-high 17 points while Brissett would chip in 15 points.
What each team has to do to win:
Attack the post and make Syracuse go into their bench.
Syracuse does not have a deep team, especially in terms of bench big men. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim will use the extra bodies but he prefers not to. With two premier big men in both Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. for Duke, going into the post on offense should not be a problem for them. Given the fact that Bagley III is a hefty force to deal with by himself, Syracuse can’t count out the production that Carter Jr. can bring.
While Syracuse has been shutting down high powered offenses all tournament, Duke has more of a complete team with more weapons than both TCU and Michigan State.
If there was something to learn from watching these two teams play last month it was how much more physical Duke was over Syracuse. As stated previously, regular season match-ups and results don’t matter once March hits, however, the size and physicality is something that hasn’t changed and it must be emphasized if Duke wants to march forward to the Elite 8.
Believe and stay in the zone & control the pace.
Boeheim has made his 2-3 zone a common staple in how he runs the SU program. As long as you execute the zone on a consistent basis throughout 40 minutes then opponents are going find it tough to score points and win games.
Duke is the more talented team in this match-up, this is not a question. However, Syracuse could be playing some of the best defensive basketball this tournament has to offer. If the focus is on limiting Bagley III and Carter Jr. then the Orange big men must be smart and contest the shots without getting into foul trouble.
For all we know, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski could possibly find it hard to penetrate this zone and if he does then Syracuse will be in good shape.
This zone works for Syracuse because of the constant rotation once the ball enters certain areas as well as the experience that these players have after running it all season long. One could argue that this zone is the reason they are where they are at now. Without it, who knows, maybe they would have been eliminated in the play-in game. If they ever, for some reason, were to get out of the zone in this game, Duke will pick this Syracuse defense apart and it would turn ugly really fast.
Syracuse does not want this game to move too fast for them due to the lack of depth as well as wanting to get set up in their zone on the defensive end. While it might be okay to push the ball every now and then, if Syracuse wants any chance of advancing, they will have to control the tempo of the game and not let Duke set it for them.
I believe the length and athleticism for Duke will be too much for Syracuse’s zone. The zone will limit Duke from putting up the high amount of points they have in the tourney so far, but as the game rolls on the size and power of Duke will become too much for Syracuse to handle and the Blue Devils will begin to separate themselves. Final score 70-60, Duke.