XFactor: Duke basketball vs Syracuse

The Blue Devils will look to stop a two-game losing streak Monday when they host Syracuse at 7 p.m. The Orange are trending in the opposite direction as they've won their last two ACC games and have regained their footing under head coach Jim Boeheim. Before each game, the Chronicle takes a look at one player from each team who could be the difference maker in Duke's upcoming contest:

Duke: forward Brandon Ingram

In the past two games, Ingram’s impressive offensive performances have been overshadowed by the forward’s inability to stay out of foul trouble. The freshman has spent a combined 21:20 on the floor with four fouls in his last two games, prohibiting the swingman from playing with full aggression and putting an extra defensive burden on Marshall Plumlee, who struggled to pick up several key rebounds down the stretch against Notre Dame. With senior captain Amile Jefferson still out with a fractured foot, Duke will need Ingram to be an active defender and rebounder in the paint if it wants to get back to its winning ways against Syracuse. 

Ingram has played well against ACC opponents so far this season—averaging 19.8 points per game—and has the tools to be successful against Boeheim’s defense. The Orange have excellent 3-point defense and limit opponents to just 29 percent shooting from long range, placing a premium on Ingram’s ability to maneuver into the paint and toward the rim. Ingram is third on the Blue Devils with an average of 5.9 rebounds per game and Duke will surely need his presence in the paint against a Syracuse roster that has five players standing 6-foot-8 or taller. The freshman has a big opportunity to be a difference maker against the Orange—if he can keep himself on the court.

Syracuse: forward Michael Gbinije

The ex-Blue Devil is in the midst of a standout campaign for the Orange, giving Duke plenty to be concerned about Monday. After averaging 12.7 points per game last season, the Richmond, Va., native now leads his team in scoring with an impressive 17.2 points per contest—good for sixth in the ACC. The graduate student is also a force on defense, where he leads the conference with 2.5 steals per game.  

Gbinije’s presence is not only threatening because of his performance this season, but also because of his past showings against Duke. The forward plays with a chip on his shoulder in games against his former team, during which he averaged 19.5 points in two matchups last season, including a career-high 27-point showing in Syracuse's 80-72 loss. The Blue Devils’ most recent loss to Notre Dame showed that Duke is susceptible to strong 3-point shooters, especially those who don't need a lot of space to get their shot up. 

Just like the Fighting Irish’s Bonzie Colson—who finished Saturday's game with 31 points—Gbinije is a stretch forward that can turn into an offensive weapon from anywhere on the court. Mike Krzyewski’s team had no answer for Colson, and it cost them dearly. The Blue Devils need to avoid making the same mistake twice, or they might find themselves with a third straight loss during ACC play.

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