Syracuse and Duke Fight for ACC Top Spot

Jamie Gorry

For the second time this season, Duke and Syracuse played an absolute classic game. Syracuse, an ACC newcomer, beat Duke 91-89 in overtime on February 1 on their way to a 25-0 start and the No. 1 ranking in the country. Duke entered the much-anticipated rematch coming off a 74-66 loss to their rival North Carolina and faced the prospects of falling out of the top 10 in the polls with a loss. With star freshmen Jabari Parker of Duke and Tyler Ennis of Syracuse leading the way, both teams battled for position in the ACC and seeding in next month’s NCAA tournament.

The rematch was a close one from the start, with both teams trading blows in a first half that ended tied at 26. The first 10 minutes of the second half closely resembled the first, with the game tied at 41 with 10:53 to play. After a basket by Parker put the Blue Devils ahead with 10:32 to play, they would lead for the rest of the game. However, their victory would be a close call with 10 seconds to play. Trailing 60-58, C.J. Fair of Syracuse appeared to make a game-tying layup. In a controversial call, a charge was called on Fair. Orange coach Jim Boeheim stormed the court in a fury, earning him a technical and ejection. His penalty would allow Duke to put the game away and notch a 66-60 win over the No. 1 team in the land. Boeheim was hardly apologetic after the game, calling the decision made against Fair the worst call of the year. The officiating controversy took the headlines away from the Parker-Ennis competition, with Jabari Parker’s 19 points and 10 rebounds stealing the show from Ennis, who had only nine points on a night when he made only two of 13 shots.

Even though both Syracuse and Duke entered the week ranked among the top five teams in the nation, at the end of Saturday night neither team was in first place in their own conference. Virginia, 14-1 in the ACC and 23-5 overall, has won 11 straight games since a 69-65 loss at Duke in January. They have yet to play Syracuse, whichs now sits at 12-2 in the league. Duke sits just ahead of rival UNC in third, with both teams having four losses in the league. North Carolina, one of the nation’s most inconsistent teams, has beaten Pitt, Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky and Louisville while also losing to Belmont, UAB, Wake Forest and Miami. However, with nine straight wins, it is clear they promise to challenge Virginia, Syracuse and Duke for ACC supremacy.

2013 saw Pitt, Notre Dame and Syracuse join the ACC to bring the conference to 15 teams. Joe Lunardi of ESPN projects only five of those 15 teams will make the NCAA tournament this year, with Pitt predicted to join the aforementioned top four. With marquee matchups such as Syracuse-Virginia and a UNC-Duke rematch still to come, it will be interesting to see if a talented yet underperforming team such as Maryland or Florida State can state their case for a sixth NCAA tournament bid for the ACC.

Contact Jamie Gorry at [email protected]