As the clock winds down to 3:41 at Madison Square Garden, the droves of delighted Orange fans and awestruck Carolina faithful are greeted with a very familiar sight.
Playing at the top of the vaunted Jim Boeheim 2-3 zone defense, senior shooting guard Andy Rautins perfectly plays the Carolina passing lane, intercepts a Tar Heel pass, and passes the ball downcourt for an easy slam for sophomore forward Kris Joseph.
Rautins, who in his first four years at Syracuse was known almost exclusively for his three-point shooting prowess, has become one of the most complete players, not only for Syracuse, but in the entire Big East conference.
Against North Carolina, he hit his threes and put 11 points on the board for the victorious Orange, but it was his other stats that wowed the fanbase—seven assists, seven rebounds, and an amazing seven steals.
The 10-0 Orange have rolled through the competition, defeating three top 25 teams, the closest game all season being a 12-point defeat of No. 10 Florida in Tampa. This has led to a large amount of positive press for Syracuse and star transfer junior forward Wesley Johnson, who is averaging 17 points and almost eight rebounds while playing only 30 minutes per game.
However, the most important player for Boeheim and the Orange may be Rautins.
Through the first 10 games, Rautins has shot 48 percent from three (and 49 percent from the field), scored 10.6 points per game, passed for 4.9 assists per game, grabbed three rebounds per game, and stolen three passes per game. Many are calling him the best player at the top of the zone that Boeheim has had in his 33 years.
Rautins has a knack for jumping passes, leading to easy dunks for Syracuse's many athletic forwards, like Johnson and Joseph. In the last two games against Florida and St. Francis, both of the opposing teams' gameplans were constructed around avoiding Rautins, forcing them to run their offense through the corners to attack the zone.
Andy's value has also been seen off the court as one of the team's captains and emotional leaders.
After Syracuse's disconcerting preseason loss to Division II Le Moyne, Rautins was vehement about how the game affected his team. Following the back-to-back wins against California and North Carolina at MSG, when asked about the exhibition, he was very forward about his team's performance in the loss that he called "embarrassing".
“Clearly, we just didn’t bring it against Le Moyne,” Rautins said. “It really fired us up. I’m really tired of talking about that game. It definitely lit a fire under our butts. It let us know we’re not the team of last year. We’re not the Sweet 16 team. We have no credibility. We have to come out and make an identity for ourselves, and I think we did that this weekend.”
Rautins' dedication to the program started early on. Andy, son of former Syracuse star forward Leo Rautins, grew up in the Syracuse area and signed with the Orange out of Jamesville-Dewitt High School, where he was very lightly recruited.
His first four years saw their share of adversity, as Rautins was a victim of a season-ending knee injury that sidelined him for his junior year. On the court, he was brought in as a designated shooter—a role he played well, although he was often called a streaky shooter after spells of poor shooting.
Last season, Rautins showed his value as a starter when the opportunity rose. While starting shooting guard Eric Devendorf was suspended in the middle of last season, Rautins was inserted into the lineup. In a tough game at home against Coppin State, Rautins tied a Syracuse record with nine three-pointers, scoring 29 points in the 82-71 win.
Rautins also shined in one of history's most epic games—the legendary six-overtime game against UConn in last season's Big East tournament. Rautins played 50 minutes, hitting six three-pointers and scoring 20 points, including a few daggers down the stretch that allowed the Orange to come out on top in the wee hours of the morning.
Rautins has also worked every summer expanding his game as a member of Team Canada, where he starts for his father Leo, the team's head coach, at point guard against very experienced international competition.
After the departure of star players Jonny Flynn, Devendorf, and Paul Harris, many wondered how Rautins would react to becoming a full-time starter for the first time in his five seasons. He has not disappointed. He has shot more consistently than he has at any other point in his career, is playing All-American level defense, and has become the leader that this team needed to become great.
The Orange sit at No. 5 in both the AP and Coaches' polls, and if you ask Boeheim, a man who has won 809 games, how his team has exceeded all expectations, one of the first names out of his mouth will likely be "Andy Rautins".