As Syracuse has succeeded this March, you would figure that a captain or senior would carry the Orange on their backs. However, it is a sophomore who doesn't even start that is pushing the Orange closer to their goal of a national championship.
By now, it has been made public that Dion Waiters almost left Syracuse after a discouraging freshman season. He was down on confidence, and his production was limited in 2011. However, the guard out of Philadelphia is now the nucleus to the Orange success. And he does this coming off the bench!
Looking at his statistics, Waiters averaged 6.6 points per game and 1.5 assists per game as a freshman. Those stats were not a true reflection of his talent or potential. This year, he averaged 12.7 points per game and 2.5 assists per game. He has elevated his game towards the end of the season and may be one of the best guards in all of college basketball.
Though Waiters doesn't start, it's not like he is "stuck" on the bench behind Brandon Triche. Waiters is one of the reasons Syracuse is considered the deepest team in NCAA basketball. When Dion Waiters is on your bench, you know you have depth.
The same could be said if Waiters started and Triche sat out to start the game. Both guards are good players and equally effective, but Waiters thrives in his role.
While most players aim to start, Waiters plays better off the bench. He provides a spark for the team and excitement for the fans. He is elusive, flashy and reliable.
Over his first three games this tournament, Waiters is 12-12 from the free-throw line and averages 14.3 points per game. He was the reason for Syracuse's fantastic win over Kansas State because he scored 18 points and shot .556%.
Is Dion Waiters the most important player to the Syracuse Orange?
When Waiters is inserted into the game, his energy level increases the play of his teammates. In one year, he went from a player fighting for time on the court to a legitimate NBA prospect.
Go ahead, name all of the NBA prospects that don't start for their teams. Yet for some reason, Waiters thrives as a role player. Not being on the court for tip-off doesn't mean that a player is less vital to a team than those five players that are on. And Waiters proves that time and time again.
This 2012 NCAA tournament has shown Dion Waiters' talent and promise to the nation. Obviously, his numbers would be better if he had more minutes and if he was more selfish. However, the Orange need him to come off the bench, and he thrives on it.
Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph have somewhat disappointed this tournament. Without Waiters, would Syracuse have collapsed against UNC-Asheville or Kansas State or Wisconsin? His value and importance to the Orange is at its peak. Without the spark, energy and athleticism that Waiters brings, the Orange would not be in a position to head down to New Orleans.
The only thing that could possibly slow down Waiters in the Big Easy is a bounty. And don't count on that happening.