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X-Factor: AJ Griffin's star turn key as Duke men's basketball takes on Syracuse

<p>Since getting his first start Jan. 12 against Wake Forest, AJ Griffin has started three straight games.</p>

Since getting his first start Jan. 12 against Wake Forest, AJ Griffin has started three straight games.

On the heels of Tuesday night's 79-78 overtime loss at Florida State, Duke men's basketball now looks ahead to Saturday's home matchup with Syracuse. Ahead of the conference showdown, the Blue Zone brings you a player from both sides that is poised to make an impact on the court:

Duke: AJ Griffin

Early on, Griffin had few opportunities to prove his stardom with a slow start to the season due to a preseason knee injury. Despite that, he began the season as one of the team's top reserves off of the bench and managed to drop double-digit scoring efforts in a handful of nonconference matches. But with significant recovery down the road, the Ossining, N.Y., native finally got the opportunity to give the big showing on the court that Blue Devil fans had been waiting for and replaced Jeremy Roach in the starting five against Wake Forest, N.C. State and Florida State.

The projected No. 10 pick in Bleacher Report's latest NBA mock draft didn’t let his minutes go to waste in his first career start, dropping a career-best 22 points against the Demon Deacons on 8-of-11 shooting from the field. Though the freshman forward hasn’t always had plenty of opportunities to shoot, he is incredibly efficient when he does due to his powerful shot creation skills. Against the Demon Deacons, that ability was evident in his dodges and ability to get through in the paint. Griffin is also a strong playmaker and always has an eye for both his teammates and opponents on the court. For the Blue Devils to put on an eye-catching performance against Syracuse and gain a win at home Saturday, Griffin will have to be a part of the magic that occurs on the floor.

Syracuse: Buddy Boeheim

Senior guard Buddy Boeheim has put in the work for the Orange this season and continues to elevate his game. Boeheim is the team leader in scoring, averaging 19.2 points per game while doing so at a 41.1% clip from the field and a 34.9% mark from downtown. Additionally, in Syracuse's last six conference matches, Boeheim has dropped 24-plus points for the Orange on three occasions. Those numbers rival the scoring figures of Duke's own leading scorer, Paolo Banchero, who registers fewer points per game at 18.1.

Though Boeheim does play a significantly better game at home, averaging 21.5 points in the Carrier Dome as opposed to 13.2 in away games, Duke cannot underestimate this New York superstar. In order to top the Orange and bounce back in conference play, the Blue Devils need to execute better on the defensive end, and that starts with restricting Boeheim. To do so, they will have to do several things. First, Duke will need to put on a strong performance in the paint and use the team's tallest players to block shots. Boeheim is likely to be the player that makes the most shots for the Orange, and keeping him away from the rim will certainly help. Second, the Blue Devils must resort to the double team to keep Boeheim from getting a clearer shot closer to the basket. Should Duke do both things well, its chances of shutting down Boeheim and getting a win improve handily.


Ana Young | Assistant Blue Zone Editor

Ana Young is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle’s 118th volume.

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