Zion’s back, Battle’s likely out: What does it mean for Duke-Syracuse Duke-Syracuse, part 3?

Charlotte — The nightcap for Day 3 from the 2019 ACC Tournament will feature Duke and Syracuse matching up for the third time in eight weeks. It’s a rubber match, too, with a neutral site to serve as the decider. Of note: Zion Williamson is back, and Syracuse will be without star wing Tyus Battle (hip).

Here are a couple quick thoughts from Spectrum Center about what to watch for tonight.


He’s Back: Zion Williamson

Obviously the big news of the day is the return of ACC Player of the Year and the soon-to-be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, Zion Williamson. Williamson will play in a game for the first time since Feb. 20, when he sprained his knee in the loss to North Carolina.

When these teams met for the first time this season, Williamson put together a masterful performance — after the shoulder injury to Tre Jones. Williamson scored a career-high 35 points (11-of-15 2PA, 14 FTA) and grabbed 10 rebounds,

Zion went 9-of-12 on attempts at the rim and 7-of-9 on cut field goal attempts (77.8 FG%). As everyone knows, the weak spot of the 2-3 zone is right at the nail. From the middle, Zion got to work — with large quantities of success.

In the early stages of the first half, Williamson also drilled one of his set-shot 3-pointers over the top of Syracuse’s zone. On the next possession, he forced a closeout and attacked the set defense off the bounce. With his power, burst and handles, this just looks silly.

Williamson nearly went the distance — playing 44 minutes. He also blocked four shots, including a nasty chasedown swat on Elijah Hughes, and netted a steal, too.


No Bolden — how does Duke adjust?

Duke will be without the services of junior center Marques Bolden for the 2019 ACC Tournament. This costs Duke a valuable rim protector (8.8 percent block rate), switch defender (he’s shown the ability to check some guards) and offensive rebounder (11.6 percent offensive rebound rate).

During the first matchup, Bolden and Javin DeLaurier combined to play all 45 minutes at the 5. On offense, those two usually stationed themselves in the dunker spot on the baseline. That’s fine; however, it also congested things for in the paint for Williamson, who had to work inside an airplane bathroom at times.

I imagine we’ll see some lineups with Zion at the 5 with more shooters around the perimeter. That could pose a big challenge for Syracuse to stop.


Tyus Battle

For the second straight game, it looks like Syracuse will be without All-ACC guard Tyus Battle, who is dealing with an injured hip. Battle is this team’s Iron Man; prior to missing the Pittsburgh game, he’d played in 91 percent of Syracuse’s minutes this season. He’s also tops on the team in usage rate: 24.2 percent (25.5 percent in ACC games).

Battle, who averages 17.2 points per game, had a huge game in Durham, which included a season-high 32 points. Most of that came from the midrange — 8-of-18 FGA — on tightly-contested attempts. He’s this team’s prime bucket-getter.

While Syracuse struggled early on in its ACC Tournament opener against Pitt, the Orange settled in and played some solid second half offense. Elijah Hughes, Buddy Boeheim and Frank Howard combined for 56 points and 12 3-pointers. According to Synergy, Syracuse was 11-of-19 on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. The ball moved without Battle; Syracuse forced rotations from Pitt and found the open man.

More of that would be great for them against Duke; however, let’s remember — Zion is back. Williamson, Reddish and Jones are all demons in the passing lanes; all three of those dudes are NBA-level defender that average over two steals per 40 minutes.

Plus, the Blue Devils want to switch, which means fewer gaps to attack. When that’s the case, it’s nice to have a dude that can isolate and attack from a dribble-drive. Nearly nine percent of Syracuse’s possessions have been spent in isolation this season — the most in the ACC, per Synergy. Battle accounts for 38 percent of those possessions: 0.79 points per possession (31.3 FG%).


AOC again?

Alex O’Connell has been a bit of a trick-or-treat player this season for Duke. There’s no questioning the sophomore’s value to this team: he gives them crucial range shooting. However, AOC’s shot occasionally drifts and he turns the ball over a little too much (21.3 percent) for a pure spot-up player.

That said, he connected on 40 percent of his 3-pointers in ACC, and played crucial minutes during Duke’s Zion-less win at Syracuse. In fact, he’s played rather well in both games against the Orange: 18 points per game, 9-of-16 on 3-point attempts (56.3 3P%), four of which came via an assist from RJ Barrett at the Carrier Dome.

According to Synergy Sports, AOC is 7-of-12 (58.3 3P%) on half-court catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts in those two contests.

Without Bolden, Duke will have opportunities to hit on more small-ball lineups; if that’s the case, AOC could see extra minutes and have plenty of chances to rip nets playing off Williamson and Barrett.


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