The highly anticipated rematch between the Syracuse Orange and the Duke Blue Devils is finally here, except there is a little twist nobody expected. Both teams are entering Saturday’s top five matchup coming off a loss.
The Orange, 25-1 (12-1), were shocked by the Boston College Eagles on Wednesday for their first loss of the season. The Blue Devils, 21-6 (10-4), fell to rival North Carolina on Thursday night in Chapel Hill. Now the two teams will be facing each other with added motivation because neither has lost back-to-back games this season. And who knows, this could potentially be a preview for a match-up at the Final Four at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
The first time these two teams met was arguably the best game of the college season so far. With a record-setting crowd of 35,446 people in the Carrier Dome, the Orange beat the Blue Devils in overtime 91-89. A lot of players stepped up that game. For the Orange, C.J. Fair had 28 points, a career-high, and Jerami Grant added 24 points and 12 rebounds. The Blue Devils had five players score in double figures, including 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists from Amile Jefferson before he fouled out. Jabari Parker also fouled out with 15 points on 6-16 shooting.
The Orange had a great day on the offensive end the first time these two teams met, shooting 57 percent from the field, their highest in any game this year. They also did a great job of getting Duke into foul trouble and hitting their free throws, as they made 26 of their 32 attempts. Since this game, Duke has held opponents to 44 percent shooting from the field, and 38 percent in their last three games. This is below their season average of 45 percent (248th in the country). The Blue Devils offense, however, hasn’t been as good, as they have shot 40 percent from the field and 31 percent from three in their past three games, both well below their averages of 46 and 40.9 percent respectively. They also have been out rebounded all but once in their last five games. The Blue Devils are on an offensive slump of late that the Orange will need to take advantage of.
The Orange have also had their struggles of late. Since the Duke game, the Orange have scored over 60 points just once, the 61 they scored against Notre Dame. They have also shot 39 percent from the field since that game and have shot just 33 percent in the past two games. On top of that, they have also been out rebounded in four of their past five games. In the last three games, Trevor Cooney has shot 6-20 from three, Fair has shot 18-53 from the field and Tyler Ennis, who after the Pittsburgh game was 8-9 from the field with six assists, no turnovers and a perfect 14-14 from the line in one possession games in the last five minutes and overtime throughout the season, has gone 1-6 with two turnovers and made just one of two free throw attempts in that situation the past two games.
The Pick: Both teams are ranked in the top five of the Associated Press Poll but are not playing their best basketball of the season by any means. Both are coming off losses and are looking to get back into a groove with the postseason right around the corner. Duke has been a very good three-point shooting team all season, and they took 36 threes against the zone the last time the two teams met. Look for them to take a lot of threes and run their offense through Jefferson again, but Parker was starting to figure out how to attack the baseline of the zone before he fouled out, so maybe they will do a little more of that. The Orange need to get out of their funk, and what better team to do it against because than the one they shot their season-high field goal percentage against. Both teams know how to play each other now, but who will bounce back and get the win? If the Orange beat Boston College, I would have picked the Blue Devils, but I think that loss will be a wake up call for the Orange. They come into Cameron Indoor and win, 77-72.
Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, North Carolina
When: 7:00 p.m. ET