Duke will return home to face-off against unranked Syracuse this Saturday. The Blue Zone breaks down three aspects of the game that could help the Blue Devils stay undefeated in the ACC.
Hit open 3-pointers
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim’s staple defense returns year after year: a 2-3 zone. In Duke’s last matchup with Syracuse in the Midwest Regional semifinal of the NCAA tournament, Boeheim’s zone made it difficult for the Blue Devils to score, as the team shot 19.2 percent from beyond the arc in that game. The Orange will not stray far from that strategy, as this year’s Duke squad has yet to show that its players are able to make shots from distance.
So far, the Blue Devils have made 33.1 percent of their 3-point shots and have struggled against teams smart enough to keep Duke’s athletic powerhouses out of the lane. The good news for Blue Devil fans is that freshman Cam Reddish might be out of his shooting slump. Reddish, who shot 25.7 percent from beyond the arc in the four games leading up to Florida State, sunk five 3-pointers Saturday, including a game-winning shot at the buzzer to help Duke defeat the Seminoles. If Reddish and fellow shooters Jack White and Alex O’Connell can expose the holes in Syracuse’s zone and find the bottom of the net from distance, Duke can easily dismantle the Orange.
Slow down Tyus Battle
The key to Syracuse’s success thus far has been the outstanding talent of star guard Tyus Battle. Battle has been on a tear this season, averaging 17.1 points per game on 45.5 percent shooting, along with 1.3 steals per game on the defensive side of the ball, making a run for a spot on this year’s All-ACC team. With the highest usage rate of anyone on his team at 35.8 minutes per game, Battle is clearly the go-to guy and the focal point of the Orange’s offense.
Either Reddish or freshman RJ Barrett will be tasked with guarding the experienced playmaker, who has already earned a spot on the second All-ACC team last year. The only strategy that has seemed to work against the junior is to leave him open at the 3-point line, as he has only shot 28.8 percent from that distance. In Syracuse’s six losses this season, Battle has shot 5-of-23 from beyond the arc, which is an indicator that Battle’s high usage rate can hurt the Orange if he doesn’t play well. Shutting down the 6-foot-6 guard puts more pressure on his teammates, who haven’t been as efficient for Syracuse.
Control the paint
The Seminoles outplayed Duke down low last Saturday, as they outrebounded the Blue Devils 39-34 and scored 34 points in the paint as opposed to Duke’s 32. Nothing made it more clear than Florida State throwing multiple lobs in its half-court offense after freshman Zion Williamson went down with an eye injury at the end of the first half. Juniors Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier could not handle the size and athleticism of Florida State big man Christ Koumadje, who had a double-double with 24 points and 10 rebounds.
Duke will not get a break down low against Syracuse—Paschal Chukwu who gave the Duke’s all-star bigs the Blues in last year’s matchup with eight points and seven rebounds, will return to Durham in hopes of repeating a similar performance. Zion Williamson’s participation in Monday evening’s match is still questionable, as Duke’s leading rebounder sat out for the entirety of the second half against Florida State, even with the outcome of the game up in the air. Without Williamson, DeLaurier or Bolden will have to step up and make sure to bring down defensive boards and crowd the paint to keep Syracuse’s big men out of the game.
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