Jim Boeheim has called it the most anticipated game in all of his years at Syracuse. The #17 Duke Blue Devils travel up the east coast to Syracuse, New York where they will face the #2 Orange at the Carrier Dome. There is no question that this game will be Duke’s toughest of the season thus far, facing the best defense in the nation along with a very tough environment on the road. Duke enters the game at 17-4 including 6-2 in the ACC. Syracuse is perfect this season (20-0, 7-0 ACC). Here is the starting 5 for Coach Boeheim’s squad:

     In their last game against Wake Forest, the Orange starting 5 looked as follows: freshman Tyler Ennis (6ft 2 in 180lbs guard), sophomore Trevor Cooney (6-4, 195lbs guard), sophomore Jerami Grant (6-8, 210lbs forward), junior Rakeem Christmas (6-9, 250lbs forward), and senior C.J. Fair (6-8, 215lbs forward). Fair is the leader in PPG and second in rebounds per game with 6. Cooney is the next leader in PPG with 13 and Jerami Grant is the leader grabbing 6.8 rebounds per game. As we all know by now, Tyler Ennis is the leader in assists per game with 5.4 per game, but that’s not all he does. He sets the tempo with however Boeheim wants it to be at the time. He has fit in perfectly and many consider him to be one of the best freshmen in the country. Switching things up, here are keys to the game and how Duke can come out victorious as well as the expected matchups:

            Quinn Cook vs. Tyler Ennis

     This is the most important matchup without a question in this one, especially for Duke. Quinn Cook is the quarterback of this team and as countless articles have said, as Quinn Cook goes, so does Duke. Lately, Cook hasn’t been playing the way that we all know he can. He has made bad passes and has tried to make too many flashy passes. He needs to use his head in this game because without him, there is no chance that the Blue Devils will even keep this one close. In big games such as this one, point guards are needed to control the tempo and keep the team calm throughout the 40 minutes. Cook has the ability to set the Blue Devils up for victory and so does Tyler Ennis. Ennis has stepped up numerous times for Syracuse and has shown how good he truly is. This matchup, although it won’t be one-on-one, will be a huge one to look out for.

            Transition Game vs. the 2-3 Zone

     As aforementioned, Syracuse plays the best defense in college basketball. They don’t play a normal 2-3 zone. This one is very different and very active. It isn’t the typical zone where you can swing the ball quick around the perimeter to the open shooter who can put up, most of the time, an uncontested 3. This zone is so active that it’s tough to find an open shooter. Getting the ball in the middle of the zone usually leads to a breakdown in the defense, but not this zone. They don’t collapse and they continue to play their defense. The one way to defeat the zone is to not let it set up. This means that Duke must push the tempo every time they grab a defensive board or get a steal. When you go out in transition, the zone can’t set up, leading to a sudden lapse in defense. For Duke to win, and this is where Quinn Cook has to step up, they must push the tempo each and every time that they can. Duke has to get out in transition if they want to win.

            Shooting and Rebounding

     If Duke wants to win, they also must do two things and do them well. They have to shoot the basketball well. No team can defeat the Syracuse Orange when they aren’t shooting the ball well. This puts a lot of pressure on the Duke shooters. This means that Andre Dawkins, Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood and company must shoot the 3 efficiently. If they struggle, there is no chance that Duke can win. Attacking the zone and kicking out to 3-point shooters will be a key for Duke. The other is rebounding. If Duke doesn’t win the rebounding numbers, they will be in for a long night. This means that Amile Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee, and Jabari Parker must be active on the glass and QUICKLY get the ball to Cook in transition. Rebounding isn’t only for the big men though; the guards also have to grab rebounds. When guards grab rebounds, that means that they have a quick outlet to the transition game. They can simply grab the board and run. 

     This game won’t be easy for the Blue Devils and they are already the clear underdog with ESPN predicting that there is a 72% chance that the Orange will win. I would expect the matchups to be as follows:

     Cook-Ennis, Dawkins-Cooney, Hood-Fair, Parker-Grant, Jefferson-Christmas. I inserted Dawkins into the starting lineup because when Duke needs to get going, they can look to Dawkins to knock down a 3. This will be a tough one for the Blue Devils and it is bound to be a good game in a great environment.