Syracuse Faces a Tough Test Against Duke
Saturday is Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final trip to the Dome, and he’s bringing a whole lot of fire power with him. WAER’s Francesco Simone explains how tall of a mountain the Orange face against the Blue Devils.
You can’t tell the story of college basketball without Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski. When Boeheim’s Syracuse program moved to the ACC before the 2013-14 season, the script seemed to write itself. Two all-time great coaches, perennially contending programs, and some of the best players in the country. At least, that’s what was expected from the SU-Duke rivalry.
It got off to a flying start, as the undefeated number two Orange beat the number 17 Blue Devils, 91-89 in overtime in the Dome. That was Syracuse and Duke’s first matchup in 16 years, but the two teams only had to wait three weeks for the next one, this time, at Cameron.
CJ Fair had a career high 28 points in the first matchup, and he would play a major role in the second. The forward got called for a charge as he tried for a game tying layup late in the game. That was the Jim Boeheim jacket play, as the head coach got thrown out for vociferously arguing the call and the one Orange fell to the number five Blue Devils 66-60.
Since that point, the rivalry hasn’t been much of one. Duke owns nine of the last 12 contests, including each of the most recent five. The two programs have gone in different directions. Coach K’s group is a perennial power that gets the best recruits and (except for last year) is a mainstay at the sharp end of the NCAA Tournament field. Meanwhile, Syracuse has turned into a bubble team year-after-year that saves face through intermittent Cinderella runs in March.
There’s a massive talent gap between these two teams. Paolo Banchero and AJ Griffin are the classic one-and-done recruits that Duke has featured over the last decade. Banchero’s 17 points and eight rebounds per game are expected to take him into the top three of this year’s NBA Draft. The Italian-American is projected to be in a battle with Auburn’s Jabari Smith and Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren to be the first overall pick. The Good news for the Orange is they actually held Banchero down in their first matchup against the Blue Devils. The freshman scored just eight points in late-January at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Griffin, the younger brother of former SU player Alan, isn’t projected to go as highly as his teammate, but he too is expected to be a lottery pick. The guard only scores about 10 points per game, but he shoots a ridiculous 48.5% from three, the best mark in the ACC. He torched the Orange for 15 points, all of which came on threes, last time out.
Duke also has Mark Williams as another presence inside alongside Banchero. The center was a five star recruit in the class of 2020 and has emerged as a potential first round pick should he choose to declare for the draft. He’s another guy that has his way with Syracuse in January. Williams had 15 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. There’s also Wendell Moore Jr, who was another member of the 15-point club against SU a month ago. The junior (imagine that) adds 14 points and four assists per game of his own.
🅿️ic of the year!? 👀👌📸@MarkWi1liams @Pp_doesit pic.twitter.com/n6FAosRx0Z— Duke Men’s Basketball (@DukeMBB) February 16, 2022
Syracuse doesn’t have any of that. Its one borderline five-star recruit, Benny Williams, can barely get on the court. The rest of the team is made up of three-stars and below. Some of them, like the Boeheim brothers, have turned themselves into good college players who have put together careers they can be proud of. However, none of them have the physical talent to keep up with the Blue Devils.
So how do the Orange pull this one off? They have to make their threes, and hope the Blue Devils have an off night. It sounds drastic, but when the talent disparity is this large, that’s what it takes for an upset to happen.
WAER will have full coverage of Coach K’s final visit to the Dome, starting with a special hour-long GZA Countdown to Tipoff at 5 p.m. Game time between Syracuse and Duke is set for six o’clock.