The Duke basketball program doesn’t lose two game in a row very often. Losing three in a row? That’s almost unheard of. But that’s exactly the situation staring the Blue Devils in the face as Jim Boeheim and his Syracuse Orange head to Cameron Indoor tonight to try to do something that hasn’t happened in nearly a decade: hand Coach K his third consecutive loss.
That’s right, I said nearly a decade. The last time Duke lost more than two games in a row was during the 2006-2007 season, a season in which the Blue Devils finished 22-11 overall and lost four straight at one point in the regular season. They also finished the year with another four game losing streak, spanning the final two regular season games, the first round of the ACC Tournament, and the first round of the NCAA Tournament. They’d previously also had a two game streak in the middle of the year.
But since then, even dropping two regular season games in a row has been a rarity. It did happen just last year, of course, when Duke lost to NC State and Miami before rebounding with an 11 point road win at Louisville. Prior to that, the last time Duke lost two regular season games in a row was the 2008-2009 campaign, when they bounced back from losses to UNC and Boston College with a seven point win over St. John’s. In 2007-2008, they lost to Wake Forest and Miami before rebounding with a 30 point win over the Johnnies.
In other words, if Duke has lost two games in a row, it sucks to be St. John’s.
What does this all mean? Nothing, really. Duke just doesn’t lose all that much, so it’s nice to reminisce. The overall point, of course, is that a three game losing streak for the Blue Devils is infrequent, and it’ll be a tough task for this year’s Syracuse team to handle, particularly on just two days rest (even in a blowout win in which, somehow, the starters still didn’t get to come off the floor much).
There are some bright spots for Syracuse, though. Unlike some of the other teams the Orange have faced, Duke doesn’t have much of an inside presence. Chase Jeter was expected to step right in for Jahlil Okafor, as the No. 11-ranked player in the class of 2015 by ESPN.com, but the 6-foot-10 freshman is barely getting off the bench, averaging just 8.1 minutes per game.
Amile Jefferson, an athletic senior forward, broke his foot in December and has missed the last eight games. Without Jefferson, the Blue Devils are just as thin inside as the Orange. The short rotation for Duke these days basically consists of Grayson Allen (6-foot-5), Luke Kennard (6-foot-5), Brandon Ingram (6-foot-9), Derryck Thornton (6-foot-2), Matt Jones (6-foot-5), and Marshall Plumlee (7-feet). And yes, there’s still a Plumlee at Duke.
In case you didn’t notice, that’s not a very big lineup. It’s not often this year’s iteration of the Syracuse Orange has a size advantage, but that’s basically what we’ve got here tonight, with only Plumlee and Ingram offering any real size – and Ingram is only 190 pounds, by the way. Still, the Blue Devils have been out-rebounding opponents 38.6 to 34.7 overall this season, though they’ve fall short in that category in four of the last six games. Clemson topped Duke in large part because of a dominant rebounding edge (33-to-21), and Notre Dame also beat the Blue Devils on the glass (35-to-28).
For Syracuse to have a shot to knock off the Blue Devils, they’ll need to keep that going, and based on recent results that seems realistic. Remember, after getting pounded on the boards by Pittsburgh a couple weeks ago, Syracuse has won the rebounding battle in four of the past five games, and in that fifth game, the Orange were edged by Clemson by a single rebound.
That said, there is one thing that Duke does exceptionally well: score the basketball. Duke is second in the nation in scoring, averaging 86.9 points per game, and shoots 39.4% from three point range. Allen is the top scorer and also leads the Blue Devils in the coveted Most Punchable Face category, averaging 20.2 points and a score of “So Damn Punchable,” respectively.
Ingram adds 16.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, and Jones chips in 13.1 points per game. Kennard scored 12.9 points, Thornton chips in 8.6, and Plumlee the Younger adds 7.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Plumlee leads the team in rebounding in Jefferson’s absence (the senior forward had been averaging 10.3 points and 9.3 rebounds before his injury) and is far and away the national leader in times people have to ask, “Wait, which one is he again?”
As usual, Cameron Indoor Stadium has proven to be a formidable home court advantage for Duke, as the Blue Devils are 10-1 in the glorified YMCA gym. For Syracuse to make that 10-2, the Orange will have to dominate the glass and get second chance points against a depleted Duke interior, and make the most of their offensive opportunities. Duke is not exactly stellar defensively, so Syracuse will need to take advantage in order to keep up with the hot shooting Blue Devils.