Quiet Yet Effective: Syracuse’s Offense Continues to Hum Along Without a Star…Posted by rtmsf on January 2nd, 2012
Bill Hupp is an RTC correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp). He filed this report after Syracuse’s win over DePaul on Sunday afternoon.
Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim smirked at the reporter’s question and, with a slight shake of his head, replied, ““I’ve been here for 36 years and I’ve only had one of those guys.” That one guy was Carmelo Anthony, and though the Orange don’t have anyone with Anthony’s level of individual star power on this year’s team, they seem to have the right mix of savvy veterans and talented youngsters to make this season a memorable one for Syracuse basketball. Playing on the road near Chicago in front of a crowd half full of Syracuse orange on New Year’s Day, SU blocked 11 shots and swiped 10 steals as they overwhelmed DePaul, 87-68.
Defensively, the ‘Cuse are possibly as good as they’ve ever been. Their length and athleticism comes at you in waves. The quickness and active hands of Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine at the top of the vaunted 2-3 matchup zone means you can’t just rotate the ball from side to side at will. You want to try to split the zone and get into the lane? Fine, 7’0’’ Fab Melo, 6’10’’ Baye Keita or 6’9’’ Rakeem Christmas will be waiting to swat (or at least) alter your shot. There’s a reason Syracuse leads the country in steals per game (11.5) and is third in blocks (7.8).
On the offensive end, nine of the 10 regulars who average more than 11.5 minutes per game have scored in double figures this season. They don’t really lose much by going to the bench, either. Three of the top six scorers for Syracuse come off the pine. Super sub Dion Waiters would likely start for just about every other team in the country, but he still plays big minutes (21.5 MPG) and has led the team in scoring in seven of their 15 games this season.
Five of the 10 regulars score between seven and 10 points per game. That kind of offensive balance is great because it means the Orange aren’t over-reliant on any one player for scoring – and can easily survive a player like leading scorer Kris Joseph being shut out against Seton Hall (SU still won, 75-49). It’s a good problem to have, but also presents an interesting dilemma. Four of SU’s last six games are against Louisville and Connecticut. With so much scoring talent and offensive balance but no real identifiable stars, who are the big shot takers? If the score is close in end-of-game situations, who will take the important shots come crunch time? Seniors like Jardine or Joseph? Young slashing scorers like Waiters or C.J. Fair? Joseph, for one, is confidant in the unselfishness of his teammates. “We have guys who can make plays,” he said. “As a team, we’re very confidant in ourselves because we know everyone is capable of making a shot to close out a game.”
The Orange have many players who can create their own shot, but I would put the ball in hands of Joseph. He’s a physical 6’7’’ wing who can put ball on the deck and get to the rim or pull up and hit a soft fadeaway jumper from the baseline or the elbow. He’s draws contact well and shoots 81.4% once he gets to the foul line. As has previously been mentioned on RTC, the stars seem to be aligned for Syracuse to remain firmly entrenched at the top of the polls for the long haul. Not only are the Orange extremely deep and talented, the schedule is pretty favorable. Traditionally strong Big East programs like Villanova, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh are having down seasons, and the Orange only play Marquette, West Virginia and Georgetown once – all at the Carrier Dome.
Don’t let Scoop Jardine’s tee shirt fool you; the poll ranking is nice, but Boeheim and the Cuse just want to be dancing on Bourbon Street come April 2.