This was exactly what Syracuse Orange fans have been hoping for as they've watched their football team find the Big East basement. The Orange men's basketball team came out against Manhattan and then Albany with electrifying play and domination expected of a team ranked fifth in the nation.
In both games, Cuse lit the scoreboard for 90+ points, defeating the Jaspers 92-56 and the Great Danes 98-74. These two wins gave Syracuse the North Regional crown and a date with Virginia Tech on November 23—a game in which Syracuse will have a nice scouting edge, thanks to assistant Adrian Autry. Autry came to the Orange from the Hokies to replace assistant Rob Murphy, who is now at Eastern Michigan.
The ESPN College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon displayed some of the best teams in the country, and Syracuse made a strong case for national title contention and a place among these elites. But what can we take away from these two blowout wins?
Last year, depth was a supposed strength of the Orange. That did everything but pan out, especially with the performance of Fab Melo, the injury to Baye Moussa Keita and inconsistent guard play.
This year, all of that has changed, as Syracuse's depth is perhaps one of their biggest strengths. The team is not relying on any one player (Scoop Jardine scored zero points against Manhattan), while simultaneously has shown great cohesiveness with whichever five players coach Jim Boeheim puts on the floor.
With freshmen Michael Carter-Williams and Rakeem Christmas also contributing to the mix, the Orange look like they really could go ten-deep into the rotation and still get solid play. (This may be why Coach Boeheim made the decision to redshirt highly touted recruit Trevor Cooney.)
Granted, in these opening season games, the reserves always seem to look good. However, this year does not seem like a fluke. In the semifinals of the NIT, the Orange will surely show off their depth to the nation.
Just a couple of days ago, a writer said something about James Southerland having to step up his play. Well, Southerland has decided to show Jim Boeheim that he can be in the starting rotation with a 19-point performance that helped carry the team.
Syracuse also got help with 14 from Baye Keita, who showed a lot of hustle for a big man. Kris Joesph scored 34 points in the two games, crossing the 1,000 point mark for his Orange career. Fab put up 11 versus Manhattan. C.J. Fair had two good games.
Bottom line: Syracuse can score from everywhere. At the beginning of the season, the Orange faced uncertainty from the media, which wondered who the go-to scorer would be.
Everyone, as of right now. Triche, Joseph, Southerland and Carter-Williams are all potent from outside the arc. Fab, Keita and Christmas all show potential to win the battle in the paint. Scoop will be as potent as ever scoring, and Dion Waiters looks like a player who, when hot, will be hard to stop.
Who gets the final shot? Probably Joseph at this point, but the moral of the story is that, while there may not be a Jimmer on this team, Syracuse is more than capable of scoring huge points against inferior opponents.
Defense is difficult to measure against inferior opponents, so take the Orange's success with a grain of salt.
Does the zone look adequate even without Rick Jackson? Yes. Fab and Keita have surprised so far on defense and while Christmas looks a little lost, he has the physical ability to at least be more than a pushover.
Jake Moskowitz of the OBR has coined a name for Boeheim's rotation with these two in the zone; he calls it "The Death Star" because the guards are more spread on the edges. Even Logan Aronhalt refused to take on Fab on fast breaks, preferring instead to pull up for jumpers.
As of now, Boeheim is not happy that the Orange were called for 23 fouls in the game against Albany, and Gerado Suero showed that a great guard is the key to wearing down the zone this season, but it is early enough in the year that Virginia Tech won't see the same defense.
Already, this team looks good on both sides of the ball.
Fab Melo was a disappointment last season. Already, he has grown in leaps and bounds. He doesn't even look like he did last year (shown above against Indiana State). Fab has lost weight, gotten quicker and is turning into a great two-way player.
Against Manhattan, Fab was all over the court and recorded 11 points, something that fans last year expected out of him each game. Fab took this to heart and worked on improving his weight and agility, becoming faster and leaner.
Even more impressive is Fab's defensive performance. Last year, Fab just took up space and did not actively defend down low. This season, Fab has had moments of pure domination, blocking shots and playing with a tenacity many thought the easygoing Brazilian simply did not possess.
If Fab can play this way against the much more physical, talented centers of the Big East, he may live up to—and possibly even exceed—the hype he came into last season with.
"Live by the Scoop, die by the Scoop." This was the common phrase for Syracuse fans last year when talking about Syracuse's enigma at point guard. This season, Scoop Jardine said he's ready to be leader.
"There's a reason that I'm here and hopefully it's a great reason." So far, Scoop has said all the right things and has continued to play like a true leader. He constantly reiterated that the key to success was to "Leave our egos at the door," and Jardine left his ego behind against Manhattan, scoring zero points, but setting up his teammates to score 92.
While Scoop has not always taken the best of shots this season, he has protected the ball far better in regards to turnovers, an area he struggled in last year. It was Michael Carter-Williams who got ripped into by Boeheim, not Jardine, after a cross-court pass landed in the third row of stands.
As the fifth-year senior continues to mesh with the different rotations, he will be highly scrutinized due to his shaky performances last year—specifically the final few seconds against Marquette.
But Jardine's performance so far shows a maturation that took place with Team USA and Chris Paul this summer, and that may be the key to guiding the Orange to the National Championship.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes gathered for this article were told directly to Andrew Pregler at Syracuse University's Media Day.
For more Syracuse news and updates, follow @ACPregler on Twitter.