Syracuse avoided a very possible upset opportunity for Kansas State on Saturday, marching past the Wildcats 75-59 and making a statement without Fab Melo on the NCAA tournament roster.
The loss of Melo hurt the Orange inside the paint both defensively and offensively, but his presence was not needed on Saturday, as Syracuse put together a very well-rounded and efficient game from the floor.
The biggest difference for the Orange was the presence of Melo's replacement, Rakeem Christmas, who had eight points and 11 rebounds.
The 6'9" forward should be the X-factor in determining how far this team can go in this tournament. His three blocks were a big part of why Kansas State was not able to get a rhythm going throughout the game.
The only worry for the Orange from here on out is the lack of consistency on the boards, as K-State's Jordan Henriquez had 11 offensive rebounds in the game to go with his total of 17 rebounds. That will be a definite factor against either Vanderbilt or Wisconsin in the Sweet 16.
With that said, the Orange are going to make it further in this tournament by doing what they have done so far, which is shoot efficiently from the floor. Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters both had efficient days, with both hitting five of nine shots from the floor.
Waiter had 18 points, while Jardine added 16 points.
The Syracuse game has totally changed from a guard-heavy team with a good low-post defense to a team thriving from long range. Credit coach Jim Boeheim for that, but credit the players for recognizing what position this team is in and coming through when it matter.
Syracuse's success goes as far Jardine's point guard proficiency will take them. If he takes care of the ball and can add in a good amount of points from long range, there is no stopping Syracuse from heading to the Final Four.
They will draw a favorable matchup against either Vanderbilt or Wisconsin in the Sweet 16, and if they get past either of them, then they will most likely matchup with Ohio State, which should be the toughest opponent for the Orange thus far.
Christmas will need to continue to improve under the basket for this team be ready for the Buckeye's presence in the paint.