Orange looks like No. 1 team

If you were to look at some of the stats from last night’s game you would automatically assume a Syracuse loss. NC State shot 58 percent from the field, shot 50 percent from 3-point range, had twice as many assists as the Orange and held the rebounding edge. And yet, the Orange walked away with the win. This was the performance of a No. 1 team. It wasn’t that they played a perfect game. Far from it.  But they battled through a hot start by the Wolfpack, who prevented them from playing their typical game, and still beat a solid team on the road by 16 points.

Give credit to head coach Mark Gottfried for coming up with a game plan that would limit Syracuse’s transition points. That has been the bread and butter of this team all season. Their defense has led to easy offense but that wasn’t the case last night. Against Manhattan, the Orange scored 43.5 percent of their buckets in transition and against George Washington it was a whopping 53.5 percent. But NC State held the Orange to just 9 fastbreak points.

They attacked the zone the way all teams should. They passed to the top of the free throw line, worked the baseline and moved the ball for decent 3-point attempts. CJ Williams had a game-high 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting with jumpers from the foul line and dunks from the baseline. They attacked the zone better than any team has all year.

But while they did halt the transition game of SU, it wasn’t that they didn’t turn the ball over. The Wolfpack were called for multiple travel violations and had a few passes sail out of bounds on their way to 19 turnovers. Of course, the defense did have a little something to do with those errors. Syracuse bottled up 3-point specialist Scott Wood and held him to 8 points and 2-of-6 from distance. They allowed others to take those shots but they backed Wood up to NBA range before he was allowed to get a shot off. Even at that distance Dion Waiters was able to swat one of his shots.

The defense was decent but it was on the offensive end where Syracuse did their damage. The Orange’s half court offense has been shaky to say the least. It had been the Achilles heel that had yet to be exposed. Many wondered if Syracuse could compete against a team that didn’t allow them to get those easy buckets in transition. Last night they scored just 9 fastbreak points but still finished with 88 points.

They didn’t fall into the traps that had plagued this team all year (as much as the top team in the nation can be “plagued” by anything). The guards didn’t settle for jumpers. Dion Waiters and Scoop Jardine both went strong to the hoop and that allowed them to get separation on their jumpers later in the game.  Those two combined to go 16-for-23. Kris Joseph spaced the floor and didn’t attempt to go one-on-one. The ball movement and spacing was much better and allowed James Southerland to get involved with some open looks. Most importantly, they didn’t turn the ball over. SU tallied just 8 turnovers on the night despite having to play half court offense basically the entire game. The end result was the best shooting night of the season. In their 2 previous games they had shot 37-percent in half court and last night they made 53.6-percent of those attempts.

This week the Orange received 51 of 65 first-place votes in the AP poll. This is the type of win that could make that vote unanimous. Is there any team as versatile as Syracuse? They can beat just about any team even when they’re not clicking on all cylinders. Is there any team as deep as the Orange? The bench scored 46 points and had 3 players in double figures. This is one of the most unique teams Boeheim has ever coached and it seems like every player has bought in to a team-first philosophy that could pay dividends come April.

-Just one note here. You know all that talk about not playing many road games? Can this one even be counted as one? With just a few minutes left in the game, Scoop hit a shot and a loud “SCOOP” roared through the crowd. Maybe the lack of true road games makes for a larger Cuse contingency when they actually do travel.