Conference Player of the Year Zion Williamson is expected to be back in uniform after missing most of the last six games when third-seeded Duke takes on sixth-seeded Syracuse in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament on Thursday at Charlotte, N.C. The 6-7 freshman phenom went down in the opening minutes of the loss to No. 3 North Carolina with a knee sprain and the No. 5 Blue Devils have gone 3-3 since.
"They've shown that when they're together, they're very good," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters of his team. "And we've been good - not real good - without Zion. The kids have fought but it's inconsistent. It's not the level that's needed to win a championship. ... So these guys will react quickly. It depends upon Zion, his shape. I think it will happen quick." One of the wins during Williamson's absence was at Syracuse, but the Orange were one of two teams to beat the Blue Devils with the potential first pick in June's NBA draft on the floor for the whole game. Syracuse knocked off Pittsburgh 73-59 in the second round Wednesday to set up the rubber match, but Orange leading scorer Tyus Battle (17.2 points per game) did not play against the Panthers with a hip injury and his status for the quarterfinals is uncertain. Freshman guard Buddy Boeheim, the son of coach Jim Boeheim, scored a season-high 20 on Wednesday as Syracuse rallied from a six-point halftime deficit.
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ABOUT SYRACUSE (20-12): Battle, a third team all-conference pick averaging 17.2 points, prepared to play Wednesday but could not go and Boeheim made 6-of-13 from the field overall in his third start to improve his season scoring average to 6.7. Junior forward Elijah Hughes (13.5 points) scored 18 on Wednesday, connecting on 5-of-9 from behind the arc, after being held scoreless in the loss to Clemson as the Orange ended the regular season with four losses in five games. Senior guard Frank Howard scored 18 points against Pitt after managing 15 combined in the previous three contests.
ABOUT DUKE (26-5): While Williamson returns to the court, another big man will be in street clothes as junior center Marques Bolden is not expected to play in the tournament after suffering a knee injury in Saturday's loss to North Carolina. The Blue Devils will still depend a lot on freshman guard RJ Barrett, who tops the team in scoring (23.4) after averaging 26.2 over the last six games with three double-doubles in that span. Freshman swingman Cam Reddish has averaged 16.3 points - two more than his season mark - in the last four contests, but is 7-of-24 from 3-point range the past three games.
1. Syracuse sophomore F Oshae Brissett averages 12.3 points after managing only four Wednesday, and leads the team in rebounds (7.4).
2. Duke freshman G Tre Jones averages 8.7 points (11.0 in the last two games) and tops the team with 5.3 assists per contest.
3. Orange 7-2 senior C Paschal Chukwu hauled in 18 rebounds and scored 10 in the team's 95-91 overtime win at Duke on Jan. 14.
PREDICTION: Duke 80, Syracuse 66 Bet Now
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