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College Basketball Preview: Stakes are different in Syracuse-Duke rematch

Jabari Parker

Jabari Parker

The last time Syracuse and Duke met, it might as well have been a Final Four game.

A massive arena, two 900-win coaches and a thriller down to the end of Syracuse’s 91-89 win in overtime. The rematch of the game of the year will have a different feel, and not just because the game is in cozy Cameron Indoor instead of the Carrier Dome.

The names are the same, but both Syracuse and Duke are coming off losses, both problematic for different reasons. The first loss of the season for the Orange came against a team that entered the matchup with six wins all year. Duke’s loss was far less embarrassing at North Carolina, but the Blue Devils’ went cold from the field in the final six minutes, contributing to the Tar Heels’ come-from-behind win.

Neither team desperate by any means, but both programs are seeking to avoid an unlikely two-game losing streak.

What’s on the line for Syracuse
The Orange had been flirting with their first loss for weeks before the bottom fell out against Boston College on Wednesday. Has the pressure been lifted or does Syracuse have major concerns after shooting 32.3 percent from the floor at home against a bad Boston College team?

What’s on the line for Duke
Duke needs to answer for a loss, too. The Blue Devils collapsed down the stretch against rival North Carolina on Thursday as a four-point lead in the final 6:26 ended in an eight-point defeat.

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Syracuse at Duke
Saturday, 7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN

About Syracuse
Record: 25-1, 12-1 ACC
AP: 1
RPI: 7
KenPom: 9
Sagarin: 11

About Duke
Record: 21-6, 10-4 ACC
AP: 5
RPI: 10
KenPom: 5
Sagarin: 4

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Duke 68-60
Braden Gall: Duke 73-67
Mitch Light: Duke 80-61

You’ll tune in to watch: Jabari Parker vs. Tyler Ennis Part II

Ennis' bid at late-game perfection ended in the last week against NC State and Boston College, but the first game against Duke was one of the high points of his season. Ennis had three assists and no turnovers and was perfect from the field (1 for 1) and the free throw line (6 for 6) in the final 10 minutes of the overtime win. How he responds to Syracuse’s first loss and his own personal cold streak will be key. Parker began the season as a prolific 3-point shooter, but that part of his game has been all but abandoned in ACC play.

Pivotal players: Duke’s second and third options

The first meeting between the two was a key moment for Blue Devils not named Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. Amile Jefferson had six offensive rebounds. Rasheed Sulaimon and Andre Dawkins had a combined 30 points. Those three players had minimal contributions in Thursday’s loss to North Carolina.

Biggest question: Can Syracuse score enough to win in Cameron?

Syracuse hasn’t cracked 60 points in the last four games and topped 70 points only once since Jan. 7. The per-possession numbers have been just as dismal: Syracuse has averaged 92.7 points per 100 possessions in the last two games. C.J. Fair has been streaky, and Trevor Cooney has been cold from 3-point range. That can’t continue if Syracuse hopes to win games deep into March.