Duke men's basketball dropped its last contest against Florida State, but looks to rebound with a strong showing against an unusually lackluster Syracuse squad Saturday. The Blue Zone has the three keys to a Blue Devil win:
Syracuse’s inconsistent defense
Head coach Jim Boeheim has admitted that defense is Syracuse's biggest weakness. After a New Year's Day loss to Virginia, he described the team’s defensive as “a disgrace” and added that it “has been horrendous.” As of Jan. 4, the Orange ranked 188th in KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings, their worst ranking in the KenPom era, and as of Jan. 11, the team was giving up 76.5 points per game, which will be the 11th-worst single-season mark in program history if it continues.
The defensive struggles have shown throughout the season as the Orange have struggled to capitalize on large leads. Syracuse has blown three double-digit leads this season, falling to Georgetown, Virginia and Miami, and recently struggled to maintain its 12-point lead over Clemson due to a weak defensive performance in the second half.
Boeheim is known for running a 2-3 zone on defense, but he sometimes switches it up to a 1-1-3 zone to avoid teams making offensive gains at the high post. However, Duke can certainly make a difference in the middle—one of the biggest holes in the Orange’s defense—with Paolo Banchero's keen vision and smooth mid-range jumper.
Another particular detriment to Syracuse’s defense has been fouling, which has plagued many of its top players.
Force the Orange to foul
Junior center Jesse Edwards has fouled out ten times this season. He’s fouled out of six of Syracuse’s last seven games—including a stretch of five straight—and had to sit out of the beginning of the second half against Florida State after picking up three early fouls.
His absence forces Syracuse to adapt a small ball lineup that allows standouts such as Wake Forest’s Alondes Williams to go to work on offense. Backup center Frank Anselem grabbed three fouls in six minutes when he entered the contest against the Seminoles, while Buddy Boeheim fouled out against Miami and picked up a pair of fouls in the first half against Wake Forest along with Edwards and Cole Swider the next game.
Boeheim and Edwards are strong shooters, with Boeheim consistently leading the team in scoring and at one point topping 22 points in three straight games. The Orange have struggled to know when to stop fouling, refusing to let teams take easy open layups even when Syracuse is ahead and stepping in their way. If Duke can stay strong in the paint and make Syracuse play aggressive defensively, the Blue Devils have a chance of getting Syracuse's stars into foul trouble and finding opportunities to work around its struggling small ball lineup.
Boeheim is normally a standout, but he struggled to put up numbers Saturday against Florida State. That same game, Symir Torrence labored to break the Seminoles’ full-court press and finished with more turnovers than assists. With the game on the line, the senior Boeheim put out a three-guard lineup featuring Buddy, Joe Girard III and Torrence.
Torrence seemed to thrive in this lineup, leading a push late in the contest to fight back against Florida State’s seven-point lead. The Orange still fell 76-71 to the Seminoles, but the lineup seemed to give Syracuse an offensive boost it desperately needed to stay in the game.
Several of Duke’s nonconference opponents played with a three-guard lineup, but the Blue Devils have yet to face a strong ACC opponent who plays with that style. In the chance that Syracuse pulls out three guards in a tight game, Duke needs to freshen up on defending the lineup—and could benefit from a healthy Trevor Keels—this week in practice to prepare for the Orange’s offense Saturday in Cameron.
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Leah Boyd is a Pratt senior and a social chair of The Chronicle's 118th volume. She was previously editor-in-chief for Volume 117.