Syracuse Basketball: 5 Biggest Storylines Ahead of ACC Showdown vs. Duke
After handing Wake Forest its first home loss of the season, the Syracuse basketball team is set to return to the Carrier Dome to welcome in Duke.
That's right. Duke. In the Carrier Dome.
The 67-57 win Wednesday night moves Syracuse to 20-0 on the season and 7-0 in ACC play. The Demon Deacons gave Syracuse all they could handle, but the Orange once again made the plays they needed to make to salt the game away.
And now, all of the attention moves to the colossal showdown Saturday. Two signature programs. Two legendary coaches. Two of the best freshmen in the country. One monumental matchup.
With just days until these two juggernauts take the floor, let's take a look at the biggest storylines surrounding this game.
This is without question the biggest game of the season for both teams.
Tickets to Saturday's game sold out just minutes after they went on sale, and "Beat Duke" shirts have been showing up on store shelves in Central New York since the schedule was released.
ESPN's College GameDay will be in attendance, as well as over 35,000 spectators. Syracuse is expecting to break the attendance record set last year when 35,012 fans packed the Carrier Dome to see the final Big East game against Georgetown.
Saturday will officially tip off the Syracuse/Duke rivalry in the ACC, and both teams will be looking to get off on the right foot. The atmosphere will be unlike anything Duke has experienced, but the Blue Devils showed they can play in hostile environments when they knocked off Pittsburgh.
Serving as the appetizer the day before the Super Bowl main course, the spotlight will be shining brightly on this one.
Syracuse History at Stake
After beating Wake Forest, Syracuse moved to 20-0 on the season. That is tied for the best start in program history. A win against Duke would set a new program record for the most wins to start a season.
As if the team needed any extra motivation.
A win would also move the Orange to 8-0 in ACC play which, naturally, would be the best conference start ever since this is Syracuse's first year in the conference. With Virginia at 7-1 in conference play, Syracuse needs this one to stay at the head of the ACC class.
Saturday's contest will feature two of the top young guns in the country in Syracuse's Tyler Ennis and Duke's Jabari Parker. Both freshmen were on the midseason Wooden Award Top 25, and they have been showing up in the first round of more and more NBA draft mocks.
But besides the freshman focus, there are some other interesting matchups to keep an eye on during this game.
How will Duke's perimeter shooters fare against the 2-3 zone? Duke shoots 41.4 percent from deep as a team, and players such as Parker, Rodney Hood and Andre Dawkins have shown they can do serious damage from three-point land.
And conversely, how much will Syracuse be able to control the game up front? Duke likes to space the floor with those perimeter players, so how C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant and Rakeem Christmas play inside will be a key to Syracuse's success. If the Orange can control the glass and get easy points in the paint, they will have a much easier time. But if Duke gets hot from the perimeter, Syracuse may have a hard time keeping up.
While the players will be the ones deciding the game, a significant amount of attention will be paid to the two men patrolling the sidelines.
In Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski, two legends of coaching will be squaring off. Boeheim and Krzyzewski have over 1,900 career wins combined, and they are the only two coaches with 900 wins at one school. The Hall of Famers have won five national titles between them (Coach K four and Boeheim one) and have gone to a total of 15 Final Fours.
And off campus, they are close friends. Boeheim has been one of Krzyzewski's assistants for USA Basketball since 2005, and they took home gold medals in the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics.
Both have a case to be on the Mount Rushmore of coaches, and they surely have shared plenty of secrets and strategies with each other in their time coaching together. Even though they have only faced each other twice (once in 1989 and again in 1998) at their current schools, Boeheim and Krzyzewski are plenty familiar with one another.
For as long as they have been playing hoops in the ACC, Duke has been the flag-bearer for the conference.
But things have changed since Syracuse and Pitt came over from the Big East. Syracuse now sits atop the conference at 7-0, already having notched wins over ACC mainstays North Carolina and Wake Forest.
Duke might not just be playing for Duke on Saturday. The Blue Devils might be playing for all of the ACC faithful who don't want to see their conference taken over by newcomers from up north.
The Blue Devils have been playing much better as of late, winning five straight games. Some are saying Duke should be plenty confident it can leave the Dome with a victory.
A Syracuse win cements the Orange as the favorite and team to beat in the ACC. A Duke win would shake up the ACC race as well as once again establish the Blue Devils as a top-tier team.
So the stage is set for an excellent basketball game between two of the nation's best. Conference bragging rights are at stake. It's a matchup of the old guard versus the new blood. Syracuse vs. Duke. Boeheim vs. Krzyzewski. Let the rivalry begin.