Following a heartbreaking loss to North Carolina, Duke will travel to Syracuse looking to avenge an even more surprising home defeat earlier in the season. The Blue Zone breaks down three aspects of the game that can get the Blue Devils back on track.

Find an offensive rhythm 

Surely the greatest coach of all-time can come up with an offensive game-plan for two potential top-five NBA draft picks, right? Well against North Carolina, that didn’t seem to be the case. Once Zion Williamson went down, that was it for any sort of flow on the offensive end. Somehow, head coach Mike Krzyzewski saw R.J. Barrett isolations and Cam Reddish contested threes as the surest method of taking down Duke’s biggest rival.

This Saturday, that cannot be the case. Yes, Syracuse is not on the same tier as the Tar Heels, but that’s the mindset that haunted the Blue Devils when the Orange came to Cameron just over a month ago and playing in the Carrier Dome doesn’t make things any easier. Duke better figure out how to score without Williamson Saturday, and in a way that actually resembles basketball rather than a 1-on-5 pickup game.  

Break the zone 

It’s not hard to figure out what doomed the Blue Devils against Syracuse five weeks ago; all you have to do is take a look at the box score. Duke shot a brutal 9-of-43 from beyond the arc, an absurd number of attempts even against Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim and his famed 2-3 zone. This Saturday, the Blue Devils must do two things to ensure that kind of atrocity never happens again—attack the rim, but also hit open shots when given the opportunity. 

Of course, the latter of those two concepts is difficult to predict. There are times when this team seems unstoppable from downtown—à la Kentucky and Virginia—and there are other moments where it seems like the key to taking down Duke becomes apparent. But when you’re a college basketball team eyeing a national championship, hitting wide open 3-point shots shouldn’t seem like some kind of unfair expectation.  

Obviously, 43 three-pointers is far too many attempts for the way this team is constructed. The Blue Devils should not come close to that number Saturday. But when the team does have open looks, the shots have gotta start going down. 

Play physical in the paint 

If you told me before the North Carolina game that the Tar Heels would shoot 2-of-20 from three, I would have bet heavy money Duke would come out on top. Good thing that did not happen. Roy Williams’ squad tore apart the Zion-less Blue Devils inside, scoring 62 points in the paint and out-rebounding Duke 46-41. 

Barrett and company will be without Williamson again Saturday, so staying physical will remain a necessity. Senior center Paschal Chukwu grabbed 18 boards—including nine on the offensive end—in the two teams’ last meeting. That cannot happen again. If it does, the Blue Devils could be looking at their first losing streak of the season.