There’s no doubt about Syracuse’s go-to player

Apparently Seth Davis didn’t hear Jim Boeheim after the Orange’s victory over Marquette on Saturday.

Asked about those who say Syracuse lacks a true go-to scorer, Boeheim responded, “Well, I can’t really address that. I can’t really address fools, so I’m not going to.”

Disregarding the apparent warning, Davis wrote Monday that his one major criticism of the Orange is that it lacks a “go-to guy”:

Think of it this way: If it’s a regional final, and it’s late in the game and late in the shot clock, who gets the ball? It should be Kris Joseph, but he doesn’t have a takeover personality. It might be Scoop Jardine, but he’s not a great shooter and tends to be careless. Brandon Triche? He’s solid but not spectacular. It will probably end up being Dion Waiters, but given that he’s a sophomore who comes off the bench, is that really ideal? This is a good problem to have, but it is a problem.

Davis’s column is an exercise in being skeptical, so perhaps this is to be expected, but does he have a point?

He is right about one thing. While the Orange certainly has several players who can create their own shots and who play important roles on the team, there is only one player who will have the ball in his hand in Davis’s hypothetical scenario – Dion Waiters. Is this a problem? No.

Any time you’re identifying a problem as a “good problem,” chances are it’s not really a problem at all. This case is no different, as Davis’s argument hinges on the facts that Waiters is a sophomore and he comes off the bench. If Harrison Barnes and Jared Sullinger came off the bench, would they cease to be an acceptable “go-to guys”?

Syracuse has played few close games this season and, as a result, has rarely found itself in a situation where the clock is ticking down and it absolutely needs a bucket.  The Florida game was actually a seven-point game with less than 20 seconds left before the Gators hit a few late jumpers to make it close.

Against Stanford, Joseph hit the jumper to put the Orange up 61-60 with under 3 minutes left, but Waiters made the next five points to stretch the Orange lead and ultimately force Stanford to start fouling. Against Marquette, it was Waiters’ defense that provided Syracuse with points when it needed it most.

Although the top-ranked Orange has yet to face the ticking-clock, tie-game scenario that Davis has in mind, it should be clear to anyone who has watched the Orange that Waiters will get the ball.

Boeheim has called Waiters “the most unguardable player” he’s ever had in the backcourt. This is coming from someone who coached Pearl Washington and Sherman Douglas, among others, and who is not apt to heap praise where it’s unwarranted. Waiters is undoubtedly a special player.

The reason Waiters is Syracuse’s true go-to player is his ability to get to the hole and finish. His combination of size, strength and explosiveness as a guard is unique in college basketball at the moment. He is shooting 60 percent on two pointers, which is not only better than Fab Melo’s percentage but also better than Rick Jackson’s career shooting percentage.

With the clock ticking down, Waiters can either create his own shot or draw a double team and kick the ball to one of Syracuse’s other “go-to” players. He did this multiple times against Marquette, including a dish to Joseph for a 3-pointer that put the Orange up nine with under three minutes left.

Waiters finished with seven assists, which is a remarkable statistic for someone who was known last year primarily for his selfishness. He could have taken the shot on many of those occasions but opted to pass for a higher percentage shot.

The assist to Joseph is a perfect example of how the Orange will utilize its balance in a close game. Many criticize Joseph for lacking a killer instinct, but this is not fair. He can create his own shot and often does. His flaw this season has not been lack of aggression but rather lack of ability to consistently finish around the basket (45 percent on 2-pointers). While some of that can be attributed to unlucky rolls, it’s a legitimate criticism.

But in a one-possession game, Joseph doesn’t need to drive. Waiters can shake his defender at will. If he gets doubled, he will kick the ball to Joseph on the wing, where he is shooting 43 percent behind the arc. If Joseph is covered, Waiters will find Triche, who is also shooting 43 percent from deep.

The point is that in a pinch Syracuse has a guard who can create his own shot at will. With multiple 40-percent 3-point shooters and a solid 7-footer as options for a quick drive and dish, the Orange will be just fine in the clutch.

Waiters will get the ball and make it happen. This is the same role that Scoop Jardine played last year. It’s not a knock on Jardine, but Orange fans should be happy that Waiters has taken over the role.

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Jeff Irvine

About Jeff Irvine

Jeff has covered Massachusetts Minutemen basketball for The Maroon and White and The Daily Hampshire Gazette. He has also written for The Daily Orange. Jeff is an Amherst, Massachusetts native, and graduated from Syracuse University in 2006. Follow him on Twitter @jeffreyirvine.
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