Analysis: Duke has answered critics since it last faced Syracuse

A lot has changed since Duke faced Syracuse nearly a month ago in an arena more than 1,200 miles from Omaha, Neb. — the site of their rematch Friday in the Sweet 16.

Syracuse entered its Feb. 24 game in Durham, N.C., with its NCAA Tournament aspirations in jeopardy, having dropped two of its previous three games.

Duke, on the other hand, was playing so well while Marvin Bagley III was sidelined with a sprained knee that some college basketball analysts actually debated whether the Blue Devils were a better team without him.

After missing four consecutive games, Bagley made his return against Syracuse — though in a twist the ACC’s leading scorer and rebounder came off the bench.

In the 27 days since Duke’s 60-44 win over Syracuse in Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Blue Devils (28-7) have silenced any talk about Bagley’s importance to their national championship hopes.

Despite being a No. 2 seed, Duke was named this week as the top team remaining in the NCAA Tournament by Bleacher Report.

Bagley and Co. will try to live up to that billing when they tip off against ACC rival Syracuse (23-13) at 9:37 ET Friday.

“We’re expecting to see a completely different team than we played last time,” Bagley told reporters Thursday. “That’s something I’ve learned throughout the years.

“Teams that we watch on film, they play completely different when we actually get on the court and it’s kind of like we have to learn how to adjust.”

After missing two weeks with a right knee sprain, Bagley showed no signs of rust in his return against Syracuse in late February.

The star freshman came off the bench to score 19 points on 8-for-9 shooting and grab 7 rebounds.

He also teamed with fellow Duke big man Wendell Carter Jr. to control the paint as Syracuse matched its season-low scoring total with only 44 points.

But it wasn’t all positive for the Blue Devils. They missed all 10 of their 3-point attempts in the first half as the two teams combined to miss their first 23 shots from beyond the arc.

“I didn’t think either team played well, and sometimes that happens in a grueling conference schedule,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters about his team’s only meeting with the Orange during the regular season.

“Hopefully the other team isn’t playing well and you’re playing well, but I thought we were both a little bit run down during that time.”

Still, Duke’s victory over Syracuse came during a five-game winning streak that helped the Blue Devils secure a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Over the past month, they’ve adopted a zone defense, worked Bagley back into the lineup and managed to avoid being among the big-name teams to get upset in the tournament.

Duke coasted into the Sweet 16, beating No. 15-seed Iona and seventh-seeded Rhode Island by an average of 23.5 points per game.

But Bagley and Krzyzewski aren’t expecting another double-digit win against Syracuse regardless of what happened a month ago.

“We’re both better teams right now,” Krzyzewski said.

The post Analysis: Duke has answered critics since it last faced Syracuse appeared first on Diehards.

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