Duke at Syracuse: 36,000 to watch Hall of Fame showdown

Jan. 31, 2014 @ 10:30 PM

The hype and excitement for an ACC basketball game today is equal on both sides as two teams with Hall of Fame coaches square off.

A record crowd will be in attendance, thanks to students camping out for weeks to get tickets.

Sounds like a typical North Carolina vs. Duke game in February, right?

Yes, but in the brave new world of the reconfigured ACC, today’s game involves another traditional national power.

For the first time in league play, No. 17 Duke will play No. 2 Syracuse before an expected crowd of nearly 36,000 at the Carrier Dome tonight (6:30 p.m., ESPN).

Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, each enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, have combined for 1,914 coaching wins. They’ve each won more than 900 at their respective schools.

The Orange and Blue Devils have combined to win five NCAA Tournament championships, with Duke claiming four of them.

Now, thanks to ACC expansion, they’re meeting for the first time as conference rivals.

“It will be an historic game,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “The fact that Jim and I, total, have won over 1,900 games, it’s never been done. He and I talked about it this summer because we worked together the past 10 years with USA Basketball, that every time we go on the court, it will be something special. What a great thing for the league to have that go on.”

Boeheim, Krzyzewski’s close friend from their time with USA Basketball, agrees this game is about more than the two teams.

“It’s a great game for us and the league and will be fun for everybody,” Boeheim said.

For the majority of the season, Duke and Syracuse resided together in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll. The Orange (20-0, 7-0 in ACC) remain there as they, No. 1 Arizona (21-0) and No. 4 Wichita State (22-0), are the three remaining unbeaten teams in Division I.

Duke (17-4, 6-2) fell out of the top 10 following ACC road losses to Notre Dame and Clemson during the first week of league play.

Boeheim, though, said rankings mean nothing for this team because Duke is playing like one of the nation’s top teams.

“They are playing great,” Boeheim said. “They struggled early, now they are playing great. They are playing at the highest level of anybody in our league.”

Defense and rebounding have keyed Duke’s improved results, including an 80-65 win at Pittsburgh on Monday night.

The Blue Devils have allowed 58.4 points per game during their five-game winning streak, holding all five opponents to 65 points or below.

Over the last four games of the winning streak, Duke has gained 11.3 more rebounds than the opposition.

“We are playing well and we can play better,” Krzyzewski said. “What you have to always be careful about when you start playing well and you win is that you still do the same preparation to win that you did when you weren’t winning as much. That will help you get better.”

Syracuse boasts a terrific starting five, led by sophomore guard Trevor Cooney and freshman guard Tyler Ennis. They are first and second in the ACC and steals.

They are also effective scorers, with Cooney averaging 13.2 points while Ennis is at 12.3.

Inside, forwards C.J. Fair (16.7 points) and Jerami Grant (12.4 points) are powerful on offense.

The Orange lead the ACC in steals (9.1 per game) and are No. 5 in the league in blocked shots (5.0 per game).

Duke will counter with one of the ACC’s top offenses, leading the league in scoring (81.8 points per game) and 3-point accuracy (41.4 percent).

The Blue Devils ‘shooting ability, with Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker, Rasheed Sulaimon, Andre Dawkins and Tyler Thornton all hitting 34 percent or more on 3-pointers, is an area of concern for the Orange.

“We’re going to be moving a lot on defense,” Cooney said. “Duke’s going to have four, maybe five guys on the floor who can really shoot it from anywhere on the floor, really. Playing against a team like that you want to be active, you really have to communicate together, you have to talk and have good rotations. We have to be 100 percent ready for the game, especially defensively. We will be.”