The Duke Blue Devils were one of the few high seeds that didn’t have any trouble surviving the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The Blue Devils now head to the Sweet 16 for the third time in the last four years. In the Midwest Regional semi-finals being played at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska, Duke will face fellow ACC team the Syracuse Orange, who have surprised the college basketball world yet again by reaching the Sweet 16 as an 11 seed. The winner of Friday’s game will square off against the winner of the Kansas vs Clemson game on Sunday for the right to advance to the Final Four.
While many of the top teams in the tournament struggled to survive the first two rounds, the Blue Devils barely broke a sweat in their first two games. Duke coasted to a 22-point win over Iona in the first round before easing past Rhode Island by 25 points in the Round of 32. This is far from Coach K’s deepest team, but it’s one of his most talented. The Blue Devils have a lineup that could include four 1st round picks in this year’s NBA draft, and that doesn’t even include senior leader Grayson Allen.
While Allen and the freshman tandem of Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr. handle the perimeter, Wendell Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III get the job done inside. Bagley is averaging a double-double with 21.2 points and 11.3 rebounds per game, while Carter is close with 13.6 points and 9.2 rebounds every time out. That inside-outside balance has been unstoppable the first two rounds of the tournament and present a huge challenge for the Orange during Friday’s Sweet 16.
Of course, Syracuse has bucked the odds time and time again in March, so one shouldn’t count out Jim Boeheim and company doing it again. Most didn’t even project the Orange to make the field of 68. But with a high RPI and strong strength of schedule, Syracuse was given the final at-large spot in the field and ran with it. Behind a suffocating defense and key buckets at the right time from the likes of Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett, the Orange got past Arizona State and TCU before taking down tournament favorites Michigan State in a stunning Round of 32 upset. The Orange of Syracuse are +11 over the Duke Blue Devils on Friday.
Coach K Is A Copycat
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Coach K must think the world of Boeheim, his longtime friend and assistant with USA Basketball. For much of the season, Duke has employed a 2-3 zone defense that’s eerily similar to the patented zone defense Boeheim has employed for many years, the same defense that served as the catalyst for Syracuse’s Final Four runs in 2013 and 2016, not to mention the Orange’s three wins in this tournament.
However, Syracuse will get a taste of its own medicine. Boeheim admits that his team is “offensively challenged,” and now they have to find a way to dissect Duke’s version of the 2-3 zone. Despite winning three games in the tournament, the Orange are averaging just 57 points per game. Syracuse was also held to just 44 points when they faced Duke earlier this season.
The Cardiac ‘Cuse Does It Again
The Blue Devils handed Syracuse a 60-44 a month ago, which is a big reason why Duke enters this game as an 11-point favorite. However, that game was played in the friendly confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium, not on a neutral court. More importantly, the 60 points Duke scored in that game was their lowest output of the season, 25 points below their season average.
If nothing else, the Orange defense will be able to keep them within striking distance in this game. Syracuse is also a little better offensively than they showed at Cameron and have shown early in this tournament. Look for the Orange is hang around until the final minutes as they did against Michigan State and perhaps even pull off another massive upset. Take Syracuse +11. Bet on the Syracuse Orange +11 over Duke at MyBookie.