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College basketball preview: Syracuse vs Duke

Parker gets boxed out in Thursday's game
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

When Syracuse (25-1, 12-1) meets Duke (21-6, 10-4) on Saturday, both teams will be attempting to bounce back from heart wrenching losses. Both teams held double digit leads in the second half, but neither of them could hold the lead for very long. Still, the college basketball world will be watching.

Syracuse vs. Duke (7:00 p.m. ESPN)

On the surface, the highly anticipated game lost a little bit of steam, but once the ball is tipped, the emotions should run as high as ever. In fact, the game may be more important because neither team wants to leave Saturday with consecutive losses.

During the battle three weeks ago, the game lived up to its billing, and plays were made all over the court. Duke used their strength of the 3-point shot while Syracuse attacked the paint with relentless pressure. As hyped as the game was, it exceeded expectations.

There’s no doubt Duke will be looking for revenge, and it will be Syracuse’s first time ever at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The match ups

Forwards

C.J Fair and Jerami Grant had their best combined game ever. Fair scored 28, while Grant had a monster 24 points. The game showed Grant to be a dominant force that he needs to be on Saturday. As good as they’ve been throughout the season, Duke has the better more versatile pair of forwards in this game.

Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker can do it all for the Blue Devils. In the first game, Parker fouled out after only playing 26 minutes. Still, he made some huge plays throughout the first game.

The key for Syracuse is to attack the defense off the dribble and score in the paint. If they get fouled, the Orange must convert the freebies.

Duke will use their forwards to get the three point shooters going. Duke hit 15 from beyond the arc in the first game. How is Syracuse going to take those away this time?

Guards

Tyler Ennis has been unflappable for most of the season, so he has to play a masterful game against that Duke pressure. Ennis has to force the issue without forcing the issue. His assertiveness will lead Syracuse's attack.

Tyler Thornton will have the job of pressuring the ball. However, it was his three point shooting that got Duke back in the first game. His impact on the game will be evident for better or worse.

It’s time for Trevor Cooney to shine. As the lone deep shooting threat, Cooney has to get going early. That doesn’t mean shooting three’s either. If he can attack the rim and get free for mid range shots, Cooney may be able to expose Duke’s eagerness to run him off the three point line.

From Rasheed Sulaimon to Andre Dawkins, Duke has plenty of shooters to attack the zone. It’s imperative that Syracuse makes them take tough shots. Dawkins has ability to get in the lane also. However, he’d love to stand and shoot in rhythm.

Center

Both teams use forwards at Center. Rakeem Christmas and Amile Jefferson do a lot of the dirty work. On Saturday, Christmas needs to protect the rim and attack the glass with great effort. Jefferson had seven rebounds in the first meeting, but six of them came on the offensive glass.

Bench

Duke has the deeper bench, and they’ll have no problems bringing in subs with regularity. Syracuse doesn’t use their bench much, but they’ll need to be effective at Duke. The Blue Devil’s have no problem bringing in size with Plumlee, or an extra guard with Quinn Cook. For the last two weeks Syracuse has had one consistent sub. Former Duke player, Michael Gbinije has played spot duty at both guard positions. He’s even become the reserve forward on the backline of the 2-3 zone.

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