Durham, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - For the second time in two weeks, the Syracuse Orange will attempt to upend the fourth-ranked Duke Blue Devils, as the two teams clash in an ACC matchup at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday evening.
Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils are still mathematically in the race for the ACC title with a 12-3 league ledge. Duke trails league-leading Virginia (14-1) by two games with three to play. Duke has remained in the hunt thanks to wins in eight straight games. The Blue Devils kept the streak going by edging out Virginia Tech on the road on Wednesday, 91-86 in overtime.
Jim Boeheim's Orange are not in the conference race after self-sanctions were imposed on the program and will keep it out of the postseason. Still, Syracuse will give its all down the stretch and enters with wins in two of its last three games. The Orange got a big road win on Tuesday, knocking off ninth- ranked Notre Dame in South Bend, 65-60.
The Blue Devils picked up a 80-72 victory at Carrier Dome on Valentine's Day and with the win, moved ahead in the all-time series with Syracuse, 4-3.
Star big man Rakeem Christmas notched his 11th double-double of the season, finishing with 14 points and 12 rebounds, as Syracuse pulled off the upset of the Irish at Purcell Pavilion earlier in the week. B.J. Johnson actually led the way offensively for the Orange, posting 19 points off the bench. Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney added 12 and 11 points, respectively, as Syracuse stifled the usually efficient Irish, holding Notre Dame to a meager .347 shooting effort, including an ugly 3-of-22 performance from long distance.
The Orange aren't a flashy offensive team and once again rely on their strong defensive gameplan game-in and game-out. Syracuse is netting a modest 69.2 ppg this year, on .440 shooting. Christmas has emerged this season as one of the nation's premier frontcourt performers. The 6-9 Christmas is shooting .567 from the floor and ranks third in the ACC in scoring (18.1 ppg) and fourth in rebounding (9.3 rpg). Cooney (13.5 ppg) and Gbinije (13.0 ppg) provide balance. The pair have combined for 111 of the team's 143 3-pointers to date.
Syracuse's defense will have to be at its best, as Duke is one of the nation's most explosive and efficient squads at the offensive end. The team ranks fourth nationally in scoring (81.0 ppg) and third in field-goal percentage (.502). Duke has an equally devastating big man in the form of freshman center Jahlil Okafor. Regarded as the arguably the nation's top NBA prospect, the 6-11 Okafor ranks second in the nation in field-goal percentage (.665), second in the ACC in scoring (18.4 ppg) and third in the ACC in rebounding (9.4 rpg). Senior guard Quinn Cook pours in 15.9 ppg and is the team's resident sniper, shooting .415 from behind the arc (80-of-193). Freshmen Justise Winslow (12.0 ppg) and Tyus Jones (11.5 ppg, 5.7 apg) continue the youth movement in Durham.
Not all the wins have come easy for Duke and this week's clash with the Hokies will go down as one of the toughest this season. Both teams were efficient offensively, with Duke shooting .593 and Virginia Tech finishing at .534, but it was a missed layup by Tech in the waning moments of regulation that allowed Duke to push the game into overtime and eventually win. Okafor was once again sensational, showing no ill-effects from a sprained ankle that kept him out of the previous game against Clemson, as the big man finished with 30 points and nine rebounds. Cook knocked down six 3-pointers and poured in 26 points in all, while Winslow finished with 15.