The Syracuse Orange survived a feisty Stanford team in the championship of the NIT Season Tip-Off and are now ranked No. 3 in the nation with an undefeated 6-0 record.
It may still be early in the season, but Syracuse is playing like a team that has a legitimate chance of contending for a national championship.
With a talented roster that goes at least 10 players deep and a Hall of Fame coach, there’s nothing the Orange can’t do.
Here are five reasons why the Syracuse Orange are the deepest team in the country.
The 2012 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament will feature a total of 68 schools. Only a handful of them have any chance of winning the whole thing, but all 68 of them can play the role of spoiler.
That’s part of the reason why this single-elimination tournament may be the most challenging of any sport. Even a team that waltzed through the regular season can have trouble matching up with the fast-paced style of a team like VMI or the veteran discipline of a team like Long Beach State.
Luckily for Syracuse, they can match up with any team in the country. Jim Boeheim can choose between size, speed, shooting or any combination of the three when putting five players on the floor.
Seniors Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine anchor a team that is one of the most experienced in the country. Brandon Triche, a junior, has started every game of his Syracuse career (something that neither Joseph nor Jardine can say) and played in more than a dozen tournament games.
Programs as big as Syracuse typically have a difficult time keeping their best players from entering the NBA draft early (see: Kentucky), but with the exception of Jonny Flynn in 2008-09 the Orange have been remarkably lucky.
That translates into a roster stockpiled with experienced and game-tested players. The road will get tougher as the season wears on, but the Orange will be ready.
The Orange boast one of the country’s top recruiting classes with Rakeem Christmas (No. 20) and Michael Carter-Williams (No. 21) both ranked in the ESPNU 100. The scary part, however, is that neither player has contributed yet.
Christmas has started every game for the Orange this season, yet he is eighth on the team in both minutes and points per game. Carter-Williams sees the floor even less (13.2 minutes/game) even though he may be the most talented guard on the roster.
The Orange could likely earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament without significant contributions from either player. But what if one or both of the young prospects actually live up to the hype? Syracuse could simply ride the hot hand in crunch time and not worry about short-term injuries.
The Syracuse 2-3 zone depends on size and length to be effective. Long arms cut down angles for the offense and help force turnovers. It’s a good thing, then, that this is probably the biggest and longest team the Orange have ever had.
The starting lineup consists of Fab Melo (7’0”), Christmas (6’9”), Joseph (6’7”), Triche (6’4”) and Jardine (6’2”). There are three more players on the bench who measure at 6’8” or taller in C.J. Fair, James Southerland and Baye Moussa Keita. Even the third guard, Dion Waiters, is a monster at 6’4” and 215 pounds.
There are only a handful of teams in the country that can measure up against so much size (North Carolina, Kentucky), but none of them play zone. This gives Syracuse a major advantage once it’s tournament time.
There may be more talented teams, and there may be more experienced teams. But what truly sets the Orange apart from their competition is that they’re not even the biggest story on campus.
The Bernie Fine scandal is drawing all eyes squarely on the men’s basketball team, even though Fine is no longer employed by the university. There is zero margin of error for the Orange, both on the court and off it.
Syracuse can’t remain perfect forever and they had some close calls last week against Virginia Tech and Stanford. But having the bullseye planted on their backs will make the Orange stronger and more prepared to survive the pressure cooker that is the NCAA Tournament.