The Syracuse Orange Have the Look of a National Champion

Jeff GhiringhelliContributor IJanuary 27, 2010

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 19:  Head coach Jim Boeheim of the Syracuse Orange looks on against the California Golden Bears during their semifinal game of the 2K Sports Classic on  November 19, 2009 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Most people forget that the Syracuse Orange were picked to finish sixth in the loaded Big East this season.

There was certainly reason for skepticism, as the team lost their starting backcourt in Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf as well as Paul Harris, who averaged 12 points and eight rebounds per game last season.

Yet here they are, ranked number four in the country after having won 20 of their first 21 games. A large reason for their success to this point is Iowa State transfer Wesley Johnson, who is jettisoning himself up the player of the year ranks with his stat-stuffing performances.

Johnson is averaging 17 points and nine rebounds per game, along with two assists, two steals, and two blocks. He also shoots a remarkable 56 percent from the floor.

Head coach Jim Boeheim does not typically take in transfers, as Johnson is only the fifth to come to Syracuse in his 34 years at the helm. However, Boeheim recognized the amount of talent he lost last season and took a chance on Johnson.

It has paid off.

Of course, Johnson is not the only reason for Syracuse's great start. Their freshman guard duo of Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine have done an outstanding job of replacing Flynn and Devendorf. The two have combined for an unanticipated 18 points, four rebounds, and eight assists per game.

Seniors Arinze Onuaku and Andy Rautins are steady as ever, with Rautins making three after three, and Onuaku throwing his big body around in the paint. Plain and simple, there is tons of balance on this team, a key that gives them a chance to win a second national championship.

The Orange are a great transition team and are very unselfish with the ball, which leads to several open looks. Their great ball movement is the main reason why they lead the NCAA in field goal percentage at 53 percent.

On defense, the famous Boeheim 2-3 zone has been made even more lethal with the length of the players on the floor. They are very pesky, cutting off passing lanes and contesting almost every shot attempt from the opposition.

Syracuse's success so far could also be because they are simply more coachable than last year. While Harris, Flynn, and Devendorf were talented, they also drove Syracuse Nation crazy at times with their occasional lack of seriousness on the court.

Devendorf, in particular, came under fire when he was involved in a campus incident where he allegedly struck a female student in the face.

The new version of the Orange is filled with youth and players who really want to win and do whatever it takes to do so.

So far, it has really shown, and if they keep up this pace, the Orange will be a sure number one seed in the tournament with a real shot at winning it all.