Why Syracuse has its doubters

The majority of college basketball pundits and fans believe Syracuse is the top team in the nation. The case for the Orange being the top seed is pretty obvious. They are at the top of the Sagarin Rankings, have the third toughest SOS and of course, are undefeated. But there’s still a small minority that don’t quite give Syracuse the respect it deserves. And sometimes I completely understand that.

Aside from no one being able to watch every single college basketball game and thus, the AP and Coaches’ polls are fairly meaningless, Syracuse is deceptively good. It’s been hammered into the ground already but part of the perception has to do with the lack of a star. Actually, let me correct that: The lack of a known star.

» Should Syracuse be No. 1? Voice your opinion
» More from Robbie Gillies: The Orange is a team of runs

There’s a good chance the Orange will have three players taken in the NBA Draft next year. Not a bad haul for a team without a star. Kris Joseph hasn’t quite had the breakout season he was expected to have but he’s probably still a 2nd round pick. If Dion Waiters or Fab Melo decide to go pro I believe each would be a first rounder. Waiters might be coming off the bench but he’s proven he can take anyone off the dribble and has become the best perimeter defender on the team. Melo has made huge strides this season and while he couldn’t make an impact in the NBA right away, the fact is there are so few 7-footers that can move like him that teams would definitely be willing to gamble on him in the first round.

I touched on this earlier in the week, but Syracuse goes on massive runs and sometimes these runs can obscure how good this team is. Often, if you take out that huge run, the Orange play teams evenly throughout the rest of the game. This is clearly deceiving though, because it’s just human nature to let up with such a huge lead and Jim Boeheim uses the advantage to give playing time to those that normally wouldn’t receive it in close games. Last night against Providence Michael Carter-Williams played 17 minutes (the same number as Jardine and more than Triche) and Mookie Jones played the final 8 minutes (and was an offensive juggernaut with 10 points).

But what I think has gone under the radar more than anything is their turnover margin. Their defense is given its due thanks to the 2-3 zone that all announcers love to dissect (yes, Syracuse does have length). The Orange are first in the nation in combined steals and blocks. But it’s their lack of turnovers on the offensive end that has been particularly impressive. The Orange are averaging just over 11 turnovers per game and thus have a turnover margin of +7.4. That’s 7.4 extra possessions per game that helps make up for their above average, but not amazing, offense in the half court set.

So I get why people could watch Syracuse play and question whether they are the top team in the nation. But this team is the total package and while some question whether they win a title without a star, that is perhaps the biggest reason they can win a title. Take a look at how Boeheim managed this squad Saturday against Providence. No player played more than 29 minutes but 10 players played over 10 minutes (and Mookie played 8). Aside from getting more PT for some of his players, this was also about looking forward to the quick turnaround with Pitt coming to town on Monday. You think that type of depth will come in handy during the brutal Big East turnaround or the two days in between the Sweet 16 and the Elite 8?

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