This Game comes at possibly the weirdest time. Not only did Syracuse beat Duke in the first meeting, but Zion Williamson injured his knee on Wednesday and Jim Boeheim was in a driving incident after his Game on the same night. And so, things could look a little different for the second matchup between these teams. Boeheim should still coach, but Williamson is unlikely to make the Game in what is being called a knee sprain. There’s no point in betting this Game without knowing Williamson’s status because he means everything in this matchup.
Syracuse won the first meeting after Tre Jones went down early and only played six minutes. Cam Reddish also didn’t play in that Game, which took away most of Duke’s defense. The Blue Devils went on to shoot 9-for-43 from three, while Williamson ate up the zone with 35 points, 10 boards and Four blocks. If Williamson doesn’t play, that’d be a major issue for the Blue Devils because that would move someone else like Javin DeLAurier, Marques Bolden, Alex O’Connell or Jack White to the top of the zone. Simply put, that’s not going to cut it. Even if Cam Reddish or RJ Barrett are there, that still takes away an elite player on the perimeter and those guys also aren’t the same type of player in the paint. If the shooting woes continue, this Game has all the signs of an upset after what happened last matchup. Sure, Barrett and Reddish could get hot like in the Virginia Game, but that’s a hard thing to bet on.
The Blue Devils, with all their talent, may have to win on the defensive end, which is more than possible. They had trouble in that first Game because Jones is the head of the defense and takes away opposing point guards, while Reddish is just as good on the perimeter. Yet without Williamson, Duke has issues down low and that could mean a field day for someone like Oshae Brissett or Marek Dolezaj. That said, Brissett has had major consistency issues along with the rest of the Syracuse offense. Instead of playing Williamson at the Four, Duke has to go with the likes of Bolden, White and DeLAurier down low. When Barrett was thrown on LUke Maye last Game, he did little defensively and he’s not the right defender to throw against one of Syracuse’s bigs.
against Jones, Tyus Battle will likely have a more difficult time finding his shot after he dropped 32 points in the first meeting. Still, the absence of Williamson will lead to at least one more plus matchup for the Orange, even with Reddish in the squad. That means Elijah Hughes and Frank Howard, who combined for 36 points in that first Game. But while the Orange are at home, they’ve already lost two Games there to Georgia Tech and Florida State. Not to mention, there’s no telling what the mindset of Jim Boeheim will be after what happened.
Duke may be without Zion Williamson, yet it’s still loaded with talent with multiple guys expected to go in the NBA lottery in a few months. Barrett should be able to find his shot against the zone, while Reddish has scored at least 16 points in five of the last six Games. The Orange will get more love than usual if Williamson doesn’t play, but this is also a perfect spot for Duke to win when not many expect it.
Our Pick – Duke -4.5