Syracuse’s James Southerland still a mystery

Seven games into the season, we’re still not clear who James Southerland is.

Is Southerland the player who poured in 19 points and grabbed five rebounds in wins over Albany and Eastern Michigan? Or is the real James Southerland the player who was anchored to the bench at Madison Square Garden, playing a combined 13 minutes against Stanford and Virginia Tech, while going scoreless?

On the one hand, Southerland is SU’s most athletic player, and its best shooter. He’s shooting 61 percent from the field this season, and 52 percent from downtown. In Tuesday’s lopsided 84-48 win over the Eagles, Southerland shot 7-for-11 from the field, and 3-for-6 from beyond the arc.

“If James didn’t make a couple of shots in the first half,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said, “we’d probably be trailing going into halftime.”

But Eastern Michigan is a team that went 9-22 last year. Due respect to former SU assistant Rob Murphy, who currently is the head coach of the Eagles, but they aren’t exactly top flight competition.

Neither, though, is Virginia Tech and Stanford, both of whom are picked to finish somewhere in the middle of their respective conferences. And Southerland was virtually non-existant against them, taking and missing three shots.

The trend is obvious. Southerland is a perfect player to have against weaker competition. Put him against stronger teams, and he becomes more timid.

Well, Southerland can put an end to that trend when No. 9 Florida comes to the Carrier Dome on Friday. The Gators are one of the nations most high octane offenses, averaging 90.8 points a game, third in the nation.

If Syracuse wants to keep up Billy Donovan’s team, it will need the James Southerland from Tuesday.

“I have to expect to kill it every night,” he said.

And that has been Southerland’s kryptonite, because throughout the course of his career, he hasn’t.

Last season, Southerland started in place of Kris Joseph, who had suffered a concussion, against Pittsburgh on Jan. 17. Southerland played 38 minutes and scored eight points.

Solid enough.

But two games after that, Southerland was out of Boeheim’s rotation again, and didn’t get more than 20 minutes of playing time until SU played Georgetown on Feb. 26.

That, was last season. This year, Southerland is undoubtedly a key piece of Syracuse’s early season rotation.

The key to staying in it for the rest of the season?

Bringing it every night, regardless of the competition.

“They need to me to make shots,” Southerland said, “and being consistent with the shot is going to open up a lot of opportunities for everyone else.”

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Wes Cheng

About Wes Cheng

Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.
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