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The hype for this match has taken somewhat of a dive over the past few days. First, it was Syracuse losing its first game of the year in poor fashion to Boston College at home as -13.5 point favorites. Then Duke fell at North Carolina on Thursday, although that loss is a bit more respectable.
The loss for the Orange puts them in a bad position in the ACC as they are now a half-game back of Virginia in first place. It doesn't get better for them as they close out the season with four road games in five contests and none of those will be easy.
Duke is now three games back from first, so it's safe to say the Blue Devils won't factor in for the regular season title. No matter, home wins against Syracuse and North Carolina to close out their season would be nice. Due to the postponement of the first game against UNC, Duke will be playing its fourth game in eight days which may have an effect in this one.
The first time these teams played, it was neck and neck for pretty much the entire game. Syracuse prevailed in overtime led by C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant. Defending big men has been a problem for the Blue Devils all year and it showed up in that game as Fair and Grant both had their highest-scoring games of the year. The fact that Duke made 15 threes and still lost is a bit worrisome in this one. Five players had between 14 and 16 points for them.
As in any game against the Syracuse zone, you need to shoot well. Boston College got the upset win because they shot 11-of-22 from long range. That's an area Duke excels in so we could have another high-scoring game if they fail to stop Syracuse on the other end.
The Blue Devils have five players that can make threes with regularity and that will be a key in this game. Those five don't include Jabari Parker who only has two threes in the past six games. If he can find his shooting touch in this one, watch out. Rodney Hood and Andre Dawkins are Duke's best shooters, but then they still have Rasheed Sulaimon and Quinn Cook that can be just as good. Amile Jefferson plays a vital role inside as he'll set up a lot of those shooters.
Syracuse attacked the basket in that first game and it led to 10 more fouls and three guys fouled out for the Blue Devils. It's likely the Orange will take that same approach. It's a wonder if Marshall Plumlee will see extra time so he can help against Fair, Grant and even Rakeem Christmas.
The Orange have five exclusive players that get most of the minutes with Tyler Ennis running the show. He's having a great season, although he isn't the greatest of shooters. He sets things up for everyone else including Trevor Cooney, the three-point specialist on this team.
There's no question Duke will change its defensive strategy in this game so they don't get beaten as badly down low. While that may not matter against the flexible Fair, it should make the game look a little different. Playing in Durham, the edge goes to the Blue Devils, but due to their extensive stretch of games in the last week, the Orange will be a little fresher and really motivated coming off their first loss.
Predicted Score - Duke 72 Syracuse 63
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