Duke Basketball: Setting the Stage For the Sweet 16

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 17: Marvin Bagley III
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 17: Marvin Bagley III /

We teamed up with Inside the Loud House to pick each other’s brain about the Duke versus Syracuse Sweet 16 matchup on Friday night.

The Blue Devils and the Orange faced each other back on February 24. Duke defeated Syracuse 60-44, but a lot has changed since them.

Co-Site Experts Kevin Connelly and Greg Armstrong sat down with Inside the Loud House Expert Paul Esden Jr. to take an in-depth look at both teams.

Q: Syracuse had no answer for Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. last time they played at Cameron, how will the gameplan change this time around? 

  • Paul Esden: How do you stop a guy who is 6-foot-11 and has a seven-foot wingspan? I’ll hang up and listen. There’s a reason that he’s going to be one and done Duke fans (spoiler alert), he’s going straight to the NBA after this run is over for the Blue Devils. I mean I’m preaching to the gospel with my praise, but he’s such a unique and special talent. Syracuse has to stick to their fundamentals and really cross their fingers and hope that Marvin Bagley has an off game. While Wendell Carter may not be the most talented player on Duke, he sure seems like their most important player. He scores well and efficiently, he can rebound, and he’s an above average free throw maker. Syracuse is going to have their hands full. What’s important is that this 2-3 zone has been playing at an elite level and that’s what the Orange have hung their hats on all season.

Q: Syracuse could not score against the Duke zone earlier in the year, is there a more effective way for Syracuse to use their personnel to attack the zone?


I think it was less about Syracuse’s lack of success against the zone as it was Syracuse’s lack of offensive firepower. Don’t get me wrong this team is ‘capable’ of scoring in the 80’s on occasion, but it’s rare. Syracuse, if I remember correctly had several open looks in the Duke game, but just couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat. Duke also didn’t shoot well in that game and somehow still won by 16. Syracuse’s DNA this season is attacking the paint and getting to the charity stripe early and often. Heck, they beat Michigan State by making only one three-point basket when the 2-3 zone is allowing 50 points a game, I guess you don’t have to score a whole lot.

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Q: If this game turns into a track meet, which is very unlikely, can Syracuse keep up with Duke’s lethal offense? 

  • PE: HELL NO, to put it bluntly. Syracuse wants to drag the Blue Devils to the pits of the underworld. This team is perfectly content allowing this to be a defensive slugfest with one team having a chance to win it in the final moments. When you look at the three Orange victories during this March Madness run, they’re all quite similar. All of these games come down to the end because quite frankly Syracuse is unable to pull away from anyone. If this game is in the high 70’s or 80’s, Syracuse likely lost the game. Syracuse is led by their triplets in Oshae Brissett, Tyus Battle, and Frank Howard.

Q: What is the best way to attack the Syracuse zone? Getting the ball into the middle, or letting the guards shoot from three-point range, and letting the bigs go rebound?

  • PE: Jim Boeheim will tell you, he’d much rather allow a team to chuck it up from outside. There are a few ways to attack this 2-3 zone. If you have a guy who can camp out around the free throw line and occasionally make that jumper or kick out to an open shooter, that can destroy the Orange. Hot three-point shooting has hurt the zone this year, but more often than not the 2-3 zone just extends outside to cover the weakness. Marvin Bagley III is probably the key to this game. He’s a freak of nature athletically and can attack the rim or stroke it.

Q: If Duke is able to limit Tyus Battle, does anyone have the possibility to take over a game like he can?

  • PE: 100%. The optic from the outside is it’s Tyus Battle or nothing. But in all actuality, Battle hasn’t been as dominant as his stats would suggest on the season. He’s put up some video game numbers because the Orange are basically playing with five guys. Battle has made some clutch shots at the end of games to help the Cuse get over the top, but his overall percentage has been in the gutter. If Duke contains Battle, the next man up is the Canadian Sensation, Oshae Brissett. While he’s only a freshman he’s so versatile. He can hit it from beyond the arc, he can creatively attack the basket, and he’s an underrated passer.