Can #4 Duke Handle #1 Syracuse??

Bob SandersContributor IMarch 1, 2010

ATLANTA - JANUARY 09:  Head coach Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Alexander Memorial Coliseum on January 9, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Undoubtedly, we’ve all been witness to Syracuse running the Villanova Wildcats right off the court to go hide in the corner.  That was a beat down of the worst type, and that’s getting dominated in every phase of the game.  We also remember when Duke strolled into Georgetown earlier this year and received a similar fate at the hands of Greg Monroe and company.  As I was watching the Syracuse Orange and how when clicking on all cylinders are pretty much unbeatable, I asked myself….”Would Duke have a chance against these guys??”


In all of Syracuse glory last weekend I still came to the conclusion that yes, the Duke Blue Devils could actually beat this team and here’s a few reasons why.


I immediately noticed a lack of the type of guard that Duke has struggled against the last few years.  The quick disruptive type of guard such as a Ty Lawson, Eric Maynor, Jeff Teague, Toney Douglas, Scottie Reynolds etc.  Without that quick playmaking PG and with the way Duke plays defense I believe it would be difficult to get the ball inside to their big men or penetrate.



Speaking of inside game, Onuaku & Jackson are loads inside.  However, I believe their style of play is not the type of inside presence that Duke has struggled against the past few years and even this year.  They typically have a problem with power forwards that are mobile and can step out and knock down the jumper.  The type of players that can face up such as Greg Monroe, Gani Lawal and Jon Leure come to mind.  Duke has played a few good back to the basket players and bangers this season (Trevor Booker, Alex Oriakhi, Craig Brackins, Ed Davis, Derrick Favors, Solomon Alabi, and Jerome Jordan) and they’ve done well against all of them.



Next I examined their defense.  Syracuse 2-3 zone is a beast.  There’s really no way around it.  They have outstanding athletes on the wings that deflect passes, get in passing lanes and alter shots.  Once you penetrate they have bigs ready to swat passes, shots and alter shots.  You can attack it by passing around the perimeter and shooting threes, but that leaves the long rebound and fast break wide open for a very capable transition team.  You can toss it in the post and hope your big man is good enough to draw double teams and kick outs.  Or you can work the high post with a face up type player that can knock down the jumper and is a good passer.


Although Duke isn’t a great 3 point shooting team, they aren’t the type of team that you want to allow to shoot threes because they aren’t shy about doing that.  The Big Three can fill it up from beyond the arc and reserves Kelly & Dawkins, despite struggling lately, are deadly 3 point shooters.  When they get hot it’s lights out.  Just as we’ve seen what happens when Syracuse clicks on all cylinders, when Duke is clicking the results are similar.  Also The Big Three all have good midrange games so they could exploit the zone that way.


Syracuse absolutely dominated the boards against Villanova allowing only one shot on defense while racking up 23 offensive rebounds on offense.  Nobody in the nation can compete with that type of dominance on both sides of the boards.  Luckily for Duke, they’re an outstanding rebounding team especially on offense.  By holding their own or winning on the boards they will have a better chance.



However the same reasons Duke could win are the same reasons they could lose.  They can get hot from the 3 line but can also get ice cold.  I’ve seen games where they throw up some serious bricks.  Missing threes leads to a fast break that features Wesley Johnson, Kris Joseph, Andy Rautins and Scoop Jardine, a scary combination.  Although Duke has an above average transition defense, that is not the type of battle they want to fight.


Duke plays aggressive defense which means they absolutely LOVE to foul.  They regularly give opposing offenses 25 FT attempts.  Syracuse isn’t the type of team to give points to since they are an excellent FT shooting team and it allows them to set their suffocating 2-3 zone.  On the flipside, Syracuse is not a team that hacks and reaches on defense and doesn’t allow many free throws and we all know Duke loves the free throw line.


Not to mention that Syracuse has Wesley Johnson.  He’d be guarded by either Lance Thomas or Kyle Singler.  It’s tough to say whether they’d be able to neutralize him.  He’s their best player but not really a catalyst for the offense like an Evan Turner.  Johnson can dominate but he can also disappear on offense.


The Duke bench also has a tendency to just not show up on nights.  Mason Plumlee might foul out before he plays 5 minutes, Miles Plumlee will turn the ball over twice in one possession, Ryan Kelly with a DNP and Dawkins 0 for 10 from the field with 3 fouls.  That will not get it done.  Syracuse on the other hand relies on their bench extensively and they produce every night.  Advantage Syracuse.


Despite the height of Duke’s front line, they display a difficulty to consistently convert around the basket.  Lance Thomas shoots 46% from the field.  Zoubek and the Plumlees are better but you still hold your breath whenever they take a shot.  By comparison Onuaku shoots 63% from the field taking the same type of shots.


This is a matchup unlikely to happen unless both teams get to the final four or the championship game.  This game would come down to Duke’s ability to consistently knock down perimeter shots.  If not Syracuse likes to run teams out of the building; and we’ve seen them do it.