Preview: Syracuse at No. 6 Duke

Not one, not two, not three, not four, but on the fifth shot of Florida State’s possession to start the second half on Tuesday night, Naheem McLeod flushed home a two-handed dunk.

Four offensive rebounds on one possession was the lowlight of Duke’s struggles to secure defensive rebounds in its 79-78 overtime loss in Tallahassee, Fla.

“We’ve watched film, we saw that play,” center Mark Williams said Thursday afternoon. “… Those sort of plays, we can’t allow to happen.”

That play in a vacuum was an extreme example, but it was hardly the only possession that proved costly. Florida State scored 12 second-chance points, a number exacerbated by N.C. State scoring 16 against the Blue Devils last weekend.

If there’s a clear area for the Blue Devils to improve, it’s defensive rebounding. Duke is allowing opponents to rebound 30.5% of their misses – which subtracts from how good the Blue Devils are at forcing misses (45.7% effective FGs, 29th in the country per KenPom).

“They didn’t shoot that well from the floor … so, I mean, ultimately them having four or five opportunities leads to them winning a game like that,” Williams said.

The unexpected development against Florida State was that after Duke went to a 2-3 zone, the Seminoles didn’t have the same offensive rebounding success they’d enjoyed earlier.

In the last eight minutes of regulation and the five-minute overtime period, Florida State had one offensive rebound – and it didn’t even lead to second-chance points. Duke locking down the Seminoles’ second-chance shots allowed the Blue Devils to climb out of an eight-point deficit to lead by two in the final minute, before RayQuan Evans’ shot forced overtime.

“I think it forced them into tough shots,” Williams said of the zone. “Obviously we hadn’t ran it all game, so I think it messed up their rhythm a little bit. Again, I think … it gave (us) a chance to win.”

Senior Joey Baker said Duke hasn’t been practicing the 2-3 zone every day, but that it’s something that’s been tinkered with and could be seen again throughout the season.

“Being able to execute it, considering we really haven’t had any game reps, was good to see,” Baker said. “It’s something that we have in our arsenal if we need it.”

The irony is that Duke’s next chance to deploy the zone in a game comes against the team that plays it exclusively. Coach Mike Krzyzewski has used a 2-3 zone modeled after Syracuse’s in recent seasons, given his friendship with coach Jim Boeheim.


Here’s what to know ahead of Saturday’s game:

Time: 12 p.m.


Announcers: Dan Shulman (play-by-play), Jay Bilas (analyst), Holly Rowe (sideline).

Series; last meeting: Duke leads 11-6; Duke won 85-71 last season.

Records: Syracuse 9-9, 3-4 ACC; Duke 14-3, 4-2.

Stat to watch: Syracuse’s offensive rebounds/second-chance points.

Sticking with the theme here, Duke has to limit Syracuse’s offensive rebounds after giving up 22 and 19 to N.C. State and Florida State in the last two games, respectively.

Enter Syracuse, with the league’s best offensive rebounding percentage in ACC play (34.5%).

“The main thing it came down to was rebounding, we gave up too many offensive rebounds and we just didn’t make the plays that we needed to make throughout the game,” Duke senior Joey Baker said about the loss at FSU. “That’s something that we addressed and that we’ve noted and that we plan on improving.”

Orange(man) to watch: Buddy Boeheim, guard.

Boeheim has gone from streaky 3-point shooter to one of the most-consistent scorers in the ACC – and he’s developed a decent all-around game, ranking seventh in the ACC in assists (3.7 per game).

He’s been hot lately, averaging 22.3 points in the last three games. That includes an 11-for-23 clip from 3-point range.

Duke is likely to run multiple defenders at Boeheim, and the most likely ones are Wendell Moore Jr. and AJ Griffin. Trevor Keels would also work to provide more physicality with Boeheim, but that’s dependent on Keels’ status recovering from a calf injury.

Blue Devil to watch: Paolo Banchero, forward.

The Blue Devils have a few options for who they’ll put in the high post against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, but Banchero makes the most sense.

It starts with Banchero’s skill as a passer, which seems to get overshadowed in evaluations of him. He’s coming off a season-high seven assists against Florida State and has shown a chemistry with Mark Williams in throwing lobs with interior passing.

And then there’s Banchero’s strength in attacking the middle of defenses off the dribble, along with his ability to finish through contact. The star freshman should be able to put plenty of pressure on the interior of Syracuse’s zone, which lead to either drawing fouls or kicking out to shooters when the zone collapses.

KenPom prediction: Duke wins 85-73.

Devils Illustrated prognosis: This will be an interesting litmus test for Duke, and that has more to do with how the Blue Devils play than Syracuse being able to pull off the upset in Jim Boeheim’s last visit to Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Duke bounced back from its loss to Ohio State by putting in two weeks of work, and then rolling through three non-conference games, and rebounded nicely from the loss to Miami with a 12-point win at Wake Forest.

Recovering from Tuesday night’s loss to Florida State requires some of the same resiliency.


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