The ACC has four teams left in the Sweet 16 and as everyone expected, one of those is Syracuse, who already has three wins in this NCAA Tournament. The Orange have done it with great defense and just enough offense to move on. The story is quite compelling going from the last team in to one of the 16 left standing. Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett and Frank Howard continue to lead the band of seven players who see the court for Syracuse.
You will see a ton of 2-3 zone in this one as the Blue Devils have gone to that defense ever since the middle of the season when coach Mike Krzyzewski wanted his team to improve on that end of the court. The two teams met back in February with Duke winning 60-44 at home. Wendell Carter and Marvin Bagley Jr. dominated down low, combining for 35 points and 17 rebounds in the win. The No. 2-seeded Blue Devils their first two opponents in this tournament and are playing some of their best basketball of the season.
Midwest Region: No. 11 Syracuse Orange (23-13) vs. No. 2 Duke Blue Devils (28-7)
Time: 9:35 p.m. ET (Friday)
Where: CenturyLink Center Omaha (Omaha)
Keys for Syracuse
Play like you have nothing to lose. The Orange are huge underdogs in this one and no one is picking them to win. Then again, it was the same situation against Michigan State and the Cuse pulled out a victory. Brissett only scored six points in the teams’ first meeting so improvement will be needed there. The freshman has played more aggressively as of late so he should be able to hold up his end. Foul trouble also is something that needs to be avoided. The Orange got away with losing Frank Howard with a couple of minutes left against the Spartans, but that can't happen again.
Keys for Duke
Stay the course and continue to move the ball against the zone. The Blue Devils’ own familiarity with it probably means they know where to penetrate and where the holes are. Granted, Coach K has been doing it for a lot less time than Jim Boeheim. The Blue Devils have the advantage inside with Bagley, Carter and Marques Bolden so they need to pound it inside and get Paschal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibe into foul trouble. Duke already has a 16-point win over Syracuse in a game where the Blue Devils made a total of two 3-pointers. Any sort of shooting improvement and this one could be a blowout.
I picked a win for Michigan State over Syracuse in the second round, and the Orange didn’t oblige there. I'm picking the Blue Devils in this matchup and as a Syracuse alumnus, I hope that jinxes Duke on Friday. The fact is there aren't too many advantages for the Orange in this one. They run a better 2-3 zone, but the Blue Devils have fared pretty well with their own version. I'm sure Duke will look to take advantage of its size similar to what the Spartans did at the end of their game against the ‘Cuse. The Blue Devils have too much firepower and will move on to the Elite Eight.
Prediction: Duke 65, Syracuse 52
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)