Syracuse will try to start a new winning streak when it hosts No. 9 Duke at the Carrier Dome (8:00 p.m. ET / ESPN) on Saturday. Ahead of the game, The Juice Online’s Brad Bierman and Wes Cheng give their predictions below.
Season Record 2-2
Just when it seemed things were falling into place for this Syracuse basketball team with a five-game winning streak, and unblemished ACC road record, and a jump into double-bye territory for the ACC Tournament (top four teams), comes the ball bouncing the wrong way in the final seconds of Tuesday night’s 71-70 loss at Clemson.
Now big, bad No. 9 Duke invades the Dome in front of another expected overflow crowd (31,000 plus tickets already have been sold), where the teams have split their four previous games in conference play.
You want to know our latest definition of “old?” We remember sitting with Vernon Carey Jr.’s dad Vernon in Hawaii in 1999 as several members of the initial Rivals.com High School All American football team were our guests in Maui. That was before Vernon Sr.’s collegiate career at Miami followed by being a No. 1 NFL draft choice and an eight-year run with his hometown Dolphins from 2004-2011.
Now in retirement, Sr. can enjoy the time he spends watching Jr., Duke’s monstrous 6-10, 270 lb. center, develop a pro basketball career, while also absorbing the benefits of playing for Coach K and the Blue Devils for at least one season.
Carey Jr. has put up a nice freshman year so far in 20-games, currently averaging a team-leading 17.4 ppg and 8.5 rpg, and is projected in most circles to be a top-20 selection in June’s NBA Draft.
For Syracuse, there’s no time like the present to play to the big atmosphere and grab a head-turning victory, and we think the ‘Cuse will respond to the crowd but come up just a little short.
Even before we saw that there was a four-overtime game this week (George Washington over Davidson Wednesday night), we were thinking of a double-overtime doozy in the Dome, with Duke getting by Syracuse 91-86.
Season Record 11-2
Duke has only lost three times this season. The first was an unthinkable home loss to Stephen F. Austin in November in overtime which snapped Duke’s 150-game home winning streak against nonconference opponents. They also suffered back-to-back ACC losses to Clemson and Louisville earlier in the month.
The Blue Devils have otherwise been spotless, passing non-conference tests against then-No. 3 Kansas to open the season, and later then-No. 11 Michigan State in the ACC/Big 1o Challenge.
The one unifying theme in Duke’s losses has been sloppiness on offense. The Blue Devils average 13.3 turnovers per game on the season, but in those three losses, they committed 22 turnovers against Stephen F. Austin and 16 each against Clemson and Louisville.
Normally, that would bode well for the Orange, which has had a long history of forcing turnovers with its vaunted 2-3 zone. But after a frustrating road loss to Clemson, KenPom dropped Syracuse in its defensive rankings down to 131st in the country, which is even worse than Syracuse’s 2016 effort (119th nationally).
Put simply, the Orange has not won games with defense, but instead with its 17th ranked offense. Unfortunately, Duke is one of the best offensive (5th) and defensive (7th) teams in the country.
Clemson upset Duke behind monster games from Aamir Simms and Tevin Mark (sound familiar?) who combined for 47 points. A similar effort will be needed from Syracuse’s two top scorers, Buddy Boeheim and Elijah Hughes.
The Orange badly needs a signature win for its NCAA resume after a horrendous performance in non-conference play. Duke presents one of these opportunities, but I just can’t see Syracuse keeping up with Duke in what will be a 79-72 loss for the Orange.