Syracuse and No. 6 Duke are connected in large part because of the long friendship of their Hall of Fame coaches.
The first of two scheduled meetings this season comes Saturday afternoon in Durham, N.C., where Duke's Mike Krzyzewski might be inclined to take a page out of Jim Boeheim's Syracuse playbook.
Although Syracuse, not Duke, is known for playing a zone defense, the Blue Devils used a zone in their last game to help fuel a late rally. Although the result was a 79-78 overtime loss to Florida State on Tuesday night, the zone helped them turn a 9-point deficit into an overtime game.
"Just staying engaged and finding their shooters," Duke freshman Paolo Banchero said. "For the most part, we didn't let (John Butler) hit any 3s in the second half and down the stretch."
Krzyzewski has been more inclined to switch to a zone defense in recent seasons than earlier in his 47-year career (the last 42 at Duke). Boeheim has used that set-up as a staple of his program's defense in his 46 seasons at Syracuse.
Duke (14-3, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) has lost two of its last four games.
"You'd definitely much rather go through the bumps now than come March or April where it's one game left," Duke junior Wendell Moore Jr. said. "For us to go through it now is, again, just a learning experience. We have a lot of young guys on our team, a lot of guys who haven't even played ACC basketball -- this is their first time in the ACC. So, we've just got to keep learning and keep getting better ... because we've got a big one on Saturday."
Syracuse (9-9, 3-4), despite winning two of three contests during a three-game home stretch, is in desperate need of road success. The Orange nearly gained key road victories earlier this month but dropped back-to-back narrow losses at Miami and at Wake Forest.
"I'm proud of this team the way they've fought," Boeheim said. "We're still making little mistakes that you can't make."
The Orange are coming off Tuesday night's 91-78 victory against Clemson.
"We definitely needed that to get some momentum going forward," Syracuse guard Buddy Boeheim said.
Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard III both made four 3-pointers against the Tigers. And because Syracuse hasn't gained steady production on the interior, Duke might shy away from a zone defense at least initially in the matchup with the Orange. However, Syracuse center Jesse Edwards is coming off his second double-double of the season.
Banchero has scored at least 20 points in four straight games and eight overall this season.
The Blue Devils are waiting to determine the extent of a calf injury to guard Trevor Keels, who exited midway through the second half Tuesday night.
Duke does have some depth in the backcourt. Jeremy Roach has been a reserve for the past three games, but his role heightened with Keels out of the game.
"I thought Jeremy Roach really played one of his best games and was really strong with the ball, and so was Paolo," Krzyzewski said. "We were just much stronger with the ball during that time period and made really good plays as a result of it."
Krzyzewski, who is retiring at season's end, and Boeheim have been longtime friends and they rank Nos. 1 and 2 in NCAA Division I men's coaching victories. Boeheim served as an assistant coach to Krzyzewski for U.S. Olympic teams that won gold medals in 2008, 2012, and 2016.
The Syracuse-Duke clashes during the Boeheim and Krzyzewski era have included some memorable moments in Cameron Indoor Stadium, where the Blue Devils are 4-2 in the series. There was Boeheim's technical fouls and ejection in 2014 in the Orange's first visit to the venue. But Syracuse pulled off surprising victories by two points in 2016 and by four points in overtime in 2019.
--Field Level Media