Syracuse is approaching the final seven games of their 2014-15 schedule, perhaps none with as much hype as Saturday’s game against the Duke Blue Devils. Last year’s contest was a classic, one of the best games ever played in the Carrier Dome.
This year’s matchup has a lot of intrigue as well, specifically because it features two of the best low-post players in the country in Rakeem Christmas and Jahlil Okafor. The two centers will battle all night in a rare clash of two elite bigs.
Christmas has been Syracuse’s best player all season, and ranks in the top five in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots in ACC play. Okafor has similar accolades, but as a true freshman, has much more publicity among the national media.
Okafor has a mature body for such a young player, sporting an unusual combination of youthful exuberance , upperclassmen strength and veteran maturity. He can score around the rim, hit the hook shot, face up and drive, hit a 12-foot jumper and even facilitate against double teams. He is as good as it gets on the inside.
Christmas has developed his game over time, spending the last four years mastering his craft. Now, he has exceptional footwork inside, natural defensive instincts, crashes the boards with the best of them and has a knack for scoring the basketball.
Basketball has become a guard and wing game, for the most part. That is how you win in today’s game. Look at Connecticut’s run last year or Louisville the year before that. Both were led by superb guard play.
The battle between Christmas and Okafor will be a titanic one. Two superb interior players who can dominate a game by themselves. Seeing those two square off will be a treat, and could go a long way in deciding Saturday’s victor.
It is critical for each to contribute in order for their respective teams to leave the Carrier Dome with another notch in the win column. Beyond that, it could help each boost their draft stock. Okafor is considered by many to be the top pick in the next NBA Draft, but it is by no means a lock. A strong performance here would only further that sentiment. For Christmas, this is a chance to make a statement against one of the best in the nation. A chance to push his name into first round consideration.
Coming into the game, Christmas is coming off his worst performance of the season against Boston College and looks to rebound in perhaps his most daunting individual matchup of the season. Okafor had one of his worst rebounding nights of the year his last time out.
Don’t expect that on Saturday. Expect both to be at the top of their respective games, making the battle within the battle a fun one for all basketball fans.