We’re less than 48 hours from an ACC matchup between No. 2 seed Duke and 11th-seeded Syracuse that will take place, fittingly, more than 1,100 miles from the closest stretch of the Atlantic Coast.
But that doesn't make the Sweet 16 game any less important—in fact, with both teams on the verge of making a fourth Elite Eight appearance this decade, Friday's battle in Omaha, Neb., could cement the Blue Devils' status as one of the game's most dominant programs or solidify the Orange's reputation as a March spoiler.
Given the teams' recent history, one might think that all the tough questions are already answered. But both teams have evolved in the month since their February contest in Durham, meaning both Duke and Syracuse will likely discover new things about their opponent this weekend. For a primer on what the Blue Devils might be preparing for with the Orange, here are our five questions for the Midwest region matchup.
1. Will Marek Dolezaj keep on rolling and how will he attack the Duke zone?
Earlier this week, our Sameer Pandhare addressed how Duke will need to get inside Syracuse's lengthy 2-3 defense. But for Jim Boeheim's Orange, the same problem exists for their offense—against the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor, the visitors mustered just 44 points on 17 made field goals. Much of that was due to the fact that Syracuse could barely hit a 3-pointer despite taking 25 long-range shots.
During Tuesday's media availability, both Mike Krzyzewski and Grayson Allen mentioned Marek Dolezaj as a player who will likely assume a much bigger role for the Orange this time around.
"[Syracuse is] a much better team now than before. Their guys are playing with more confidence," Allen said. "Dolezaj is a different player than when we played him earlier. He’s playing much better now, much more confident, scoring the ball more. So we can’t just think it’s going to be the same game from when we played them."
In the first game, Dolezaj played 34 minutes, yet scored only four points and was used on 13 percent of Orange possessions, per KenPom.com. During the seven Syracuse games since then, the Slovakian freshman has not posted an offensive rating lower than 92—that mark was just 58 against Duke—and he scored 17 points in the Orange's first-round win against TCU.
More importantly, Dolezaj is not a 3-point shooter—he's attempted just nine triples all year—so the 6-foot-9 forward is a perfect candidate to post up in the middle of the Blue Devil 2-3 and get some easy points around the free-throw line.
2. Do the Syracuse big men find themselves in foul trouble yet again?
There's no hiding the Orange's biggest weakness—they have essentially no depth. Outside of the five Syracuse starters, the only players in the rotation are backup center Bourama Sidibe and walk-on forward Matthew Moyer.
That's it. Granted, the Orange lost Geno Thorpe midway through the season when the graduate transfer simply left the program, and they also have another walk-on, Braedon Bayer, who came up clutch during Syracuse's second-round win against Michigan State. But with Duke's strength in the low post, expect the Blue Devils to attack Sidibe and starter Paschal Chukwu from the get-go—Chukwu picked up a pair of fouls in less than six minutes against Duke last month, and both Orange big men had three before halftime against the Spartans Sunday.
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
If Syracuse can't control the paint—or at least have the ability to limit the Blue Devils down there—Duke could have a field day and put up points in bunches.
3. Can Coach K outcoach his counterpart and close friend, Jim Boeheim?
Much has been made of the Krzyzewski-Boeheim storyline, and reasonably so. The two spent many summers together working for USA Basketball, with the Syracuse head coach as Coach K's top assistant.
As Krzyzewski has said in the past, the core principles of this Blue Devil zone defense come directly from the Boeheim playbook. But the two have shared more than just defensive ideas.
"We incorporated zone with the U.S. team. We only used it one time, but we talked about it a lot. Not just why you use it, but how you use it, drills and also the mentality that you have to have in using it," Krzyzewski said. "You talk about the nuances of the game and then you ask the players that too. Their workouts, what they do to stay in shape. It was very good and we learned a lot about the zone. We feel very comfortable in teaching it, and the zone will take on the physical attributes of the people playing it."
Still, there's little question which team is more talented in this matchup. Duke was preseason No. 1 in the nation and finished second in the ACC. The Orange have no top-100 2017 recruits and instead rely on their size and athleticism to make up for what they lack in talent.
But Boeheim has gotten his team to the same point as the Blue Devils, and with one more win, he can send Krzyzewski's group packing. The impact of Syracuse's longtime leader should not be underestimated in this one.
4. How do the Orange force enough Duke mistakes?
After the Blue Devils topped Rhode Island last weekend, the Rams' head coach, Dan Hurley, said that he would have needed Duke to play no better than a "C-plus game" for his team to have a chance to win.
Even with a rough shooting night last month, the Blue Devils got just enough on the inside from Wendell Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III combined with only 11 turnovers to slip past Syracuse. The Orange caused 14 turnovers by Michigan State last weekend, and they'll likely have to turn up the defensive heat to top another big-time opponent.
If Syracuse can make post entries tough for Trevon Duval and Grayson Allen, it will have a shot to slow down the Duke offense. But the Orange will also need live-ball turnovers to lead to transition offense if they have any hope of scoring against the Blue Devil zone.
5. Does Tyus Battle erupt?
This has to be the biggest concern for Duke. Battle is capable of dropping 30-plus points—he's done it twice this season, and he scored at least 25 points five times against ACC opposition.
The Blue Devils limited the sophomore to just a dozen points earlier this year, but his recent numbers suggest that Battle is due for a big performance—though I'll concede that being "due" for something is statistically impossible. Regardless, if he can carry the Orange offense, that might be just enough for them to lean on their defense and pull off another upset.