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Three points: Duke men's basketball can look to perimeter defense, ball movement for boost against Syracuse

AJ Griffin had five of Duke's 14 triples in the Blue Devils' last meeting with Syracuse.
AJ Griffin had five of Duke's 14 triples in the Blue Devils' last meeting with Syracuse.

Riding a five-game winning streak, Duke will travel to Syracuse on Saturday to try to shut out the Orange in regular season play. As the Blue Devils look to secure a top spot in the ACC, the Blue Zone brings three key points that can guide the Blue Devils to a victory this weekend:

Defend the perimeter

Back in January, Duke throttled Syracuse 79-59 at home where the big story of the game was the Blue Devils’ 3-point shooting. Duke racked up a whopping 14 triples, of which AJ Griffin scored five. This frenzy from beyond the arc, though, was non-existent for the Orange. Specifically, Syracuse was 5-of-29 from deep and Buddy Boeheim, the team's leading scorer, was just 1-of-10. The Orange are usually solid from three, as they currently have a 37.4% 3-point efficiency, so it seems that head coach Mike Krzyzewski emphasized defending the perimeter for the matchup. 

Given Syracuse’s heightened ability outside of the paint, it’s clear that they are less comfortable giving the rock to their bigs inside. If Duke is able to put a lot of half-court pressure on the Orange and force guards Boeheim and Joseph Girard III to give up the ball, the Blue Devils should be able to take care of business. This ability to defend the three becomes ever more important as the NCAA tournament approaches, as it mitigates the risk of weaker teams getting hot and keeping it close during the first few rounds.

Move the ball

Another important aspect of Duke’s last victory over Syracuse was the fact that five Blue Devils were in double figures. Part of this can be explained by Duke’s performance from beyond the arc, but the other part was their 25 assists. The Blue Devils were able to effectively move the ball around both inside and outside of the paint; the Orange simply couldn’t handle the creativity.

Duke is coming off a close game against Virginia where the gameplay was stagnant. The Blue Devils weren’t able to find creative options, and there was a plethora of solo drives to the hoop and stalemates at the top of the arc. In fact, Duke only had nine assists, which won’t be enough against tougher matchups in postseason play. If they want to properly close out the series against Syracuse, the Blue Devils will have to be unselfish and wear out the defense with their passing.

Confidence on the road

Saturday’s game against Syracuse will be Duke’s second of three away games in a row. If the Blue Devils are able to take care of business on Saturday as well as in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Krzyzewski’s squad will have a nice resume going into the ACC and NCAA tournaments. However, this is easier said than done as the away environment isn’t welcoming for young talent. If Krzyzewski is able to calm his team down and have them play their style of basketball, the Blue Devils should be able to improve to 25-4 on Saturday.

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