For years the Syracuse Orange was defined by the 2-3 zone. Everything depended on how the players fit into the defensive scheme of Coach Jim Boeheim. Offense was often an afterthought, which might explain why so many offensive sets featured isolations for the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Hakim Warrick, Wesley Johnson, and inexplicably Donte Greene.
As this year’s version reached 20-0 for the first time in school history, I was struck by just how different this squad is than the other 33 teams that won 20 games in Boeheim’s 36 years at the helm. Whereas most other rosters had the zone, a shortened rotation, and one or two talented scorers, this one is defined by its depth and unselfishness.
Through the first 20 games there were ten different players hitting the court for at least 12 minutes per game, and seven different players averaging at least seven points for Syracuse- the 15th highest scoring team in the nation at 80 per game.
The team has had four different players lead it in scoring, with the highest output from any single player being 22. Ten different players have reached 10 points in a game with only one player, senior Kris Joseph, attempting more than 10 shots a game at 10.4.
The production is spread across the board in every category and has players embracing an unselfish style of play, convinced that everyone can produce and everyone will have the chance to do so.
Senior point guard Scoop Jardine, a historically poor shot selector, is averaging 22 minutes per game, down from 32 last season, yet is still averaging 4.8 assists per game. In his last five games, as he continues to embrace a Spread- the -Wealth philosophy, he is averaging 7.6 assists in 24.8 minutes; many of those passes being lobs for dunks resulting in smiles on everyone’s face.
Watching the Orange on offense has been a joy for basketball fans this year. The ball moves swiftly, the pick and rolls are working, and the shots are wide open. Opposing defenses don’t know how to defend this team with its interchangeable and explosive parts. Keying in on one or two guys will only result in the other three stepping up. If the opposition can somehow slow down the starting five, the next five will come in and do the job.
At this stage of the game, it appears this team is too talented and too deep to be shut down and the players know it. They have a swagger stemming from an ever-growing confidence in their teammates and their game plan.
As the wins continue to mount and the minutes continue to be shared, it’s clear the rotation will remain 10 deep through the season and into the NCAA tournament. The players have found comfort in their roles, whether reduced or increased, and on a given night any of the ten could lead the Orange in points, rebounding, or assists.
When the season opened, the newfound depth was the catalyst for questions. How would returning starters handle dwindling minutes? Who will be the go-to-guy? Will the lack of minutes create selfishness and resentment?
After 20 games we have the answers, and the Orange has its new identity.