Full-Court Press: All About Syracuse

The class of the Big East, Syracuse has its eyes on a trip to New Orleans this spring

Jim Boeheim’s kids are sitting pretty at 22-1. What do you view as this team’s biggest strength?

Joey Whelan (@JoeyWhelan): It’s underrated because they don’t play that fast, but the Orange have one of the best transition games in the nation. ‘Cuse averages better than 1.2 points per possession on the break on 61 percent shooting. No team with over 300 transition possessions comes close.

Josh Parcell (@JoshParcell): Its balanced scoring attack. The Orange are fifth in the country in offensive efficiency and first in the Big East in scoring. They have seven players who average between seven and 14 points per game. While it’s nice to have a premier scorer, having a group of players to pick up the slack if one struggles is comforting.

Zach Zimmerman (@Zach_Zimmerman): The ball movement this season has been phenomenal. ‘Cuse has the second best assist-to-turnover ratio in the nation at 1.54. Dishing the rock is essential on a team without a true 1-on-1 threat, and the Orange are among the best in the nation at fighting through its shortcomings.

Fred Katz (@FredKatz): Depth. There isn’t another sixth man in the country better than Dion Waiters. Meanwhile, C.J. Fair and James Southerland, who both come off the bench, would be well-above average starters at other schools.

Dave Ryan (@DRyanBBall): Confidence. Syracuse is easily the most balanced team in the country, and every player on the roster knows, and accepts his role in the rotation. These kids know what they’re capable of. They’ve seen it. Everyone has their eyes on a title, and right now, they look and act the part.

Most glaring weakness?

JP: Post depth. With Fab Melo out, the Orange is good, but definitely not great. If Syracuse makes it to the Final Four, it will need a healthy Melo to stay out of foul trouble against frontcourt-oriented teams like North Carolina, Kentucky or Ohio State if it hopes to win it all.

ZZ: Rebounding. The loss of Fab Melo has really exposed the team’s weakness on the glass. Even with the sophomore center Syracuse is No. 234 in the nation in defensive rebounds per game. The tournament is rarely kind to teams that can’t clean up the garbage.

FK: Free throw shooting from the guards. If Syracuse is leading a close game, its biggest problem is that the guy Jim Boeheim wants handling the ball isn’t the one he wants shooting the free throw. Scoop Jardine (51.1%) and Dion Waiters (69.7%) have both struggled from the line this year.

DR: Consistent long-range shooting. Syracuse has five guys who make at least one triple per game, but aside from Brandon Triche’s 40.2%, we’re talking about a quartet of sub-35% shooters from the perimeter. If the Orange are down big, will it be able to count on the three-ball?

JW: Rebounding, rebounding, rebounding. Syracuse has one of the worst rebound margins in the Big East and a whopping 10 percent of their opponents shots this year have come from the offensive glass – this is well above average.

Last second shot situation. Who needs to have the ball in his hands?

ZZ: Gerry McNamara? I guess I’m going with Brandon Triche, but only because he can make his free throws and shoots a tad over 40 percent from distance. Again, this is where the squad makes me nervous. I really don’t trust anyone in a game-tying/clinching situation.

FK: Dion Waiters. Waiters is the best creator on this team. He’s the best ball handler and the quickest when penetrating to the hoop. He can also shoot as well as any of his teammates from the outside.

DR: Kris Joseph. Teammates might be more dangerous from the perimeter, but I get the feeling that when the time comes, Joseph is going to be the one to step up. He’s had a vastly underrated career, and deserves the right to decide ‘Cuse’s season with a final shot. Even though he’s Canadian.

JW: Dion Waiters. The sophomore is a good shot creator, displays excellent footwork off the dribble, finished well at the rim and has a solid jumper. Overall, he presents more options at the end of games than most.

JP: Brandon Triche. He sank the game-winning free throws against West Virginia on Saturday. He’s the Orange’s best foul shooter (86.4 percent); he’s also the team’s best shooter from long range (40.2 percent). If it’s not Triche, I want the ball in the veteran Kris Jospeh’s mitts.

The enigma that is Scoop Jardine. Gift or a curse?

FK: Gift. I think Jardine’s reputation as a loose cannon is worse than it should be. His AST:TO ratio is 2.5:1. He has 42 assists and only eight turnovers in his past six games.

DR: The most diabolical curse of all. Syracuse needs his court-vision, but Jardine is still one of the most bipolar late-game players in America. His turnovers are down, sure, but he’s still a 50/50 shot from the charity stripe. He would scare the hell out of me as a ‘Cuse fan.

JW: You could say a game with solid production is a gift from Jardine, but the Orange have been great despite his inconsistency. Certainly when he is playing his best though, Syracuse is that much better.

JP: Gift. Every national championship team needs a player who carries himself with a swagger like Jardine. He’s never been shy to talk about his lofty goals for the Orange, and that behavior is infectious. This Syracuse team just feels different than any I can remember since 2003.

ZZ: He’s a gift. You want more, but I’m not sure there’s a coach in the country that wouldn’t take Jardine and his five dimes per game. His numbers are down across the board and he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn from the line, but he is essential to the offensive machine.

With Melo in the mix, how will the Orange fare in the postseason?

DR: A trip to the national title game against Kentucky, perhaps? It’s going to take exceptional defense to get ‘Cuse through the tourney, and the zone is going to frustrate a lot of good teams. For some reason I think Boeheim’s deep rotation throughout the year is going to pay off huge.

JW: I’d say this can be an Elite Eight team, but the rebounding woes have to be a major concern. They lucked out in beating West Virginia with how many second chances the Mountaineers got. In March, ‘Cuse may not be as lucky.

JP: Final Four. The Orange have a plethora of playmakers and an anchor in the middle (hopefully) that can carry it all the way to New Orleans. Unfortunately for Jimmy Boeheim, I don’t think Kentucky and North Carolina will be stopped in March. In most years the Orange might have a chance, but not in 2012.

ZZ: Sweet 16. I have no faith in Syracuse. I don’t like that the team is horrid from the line. I don’t like the personnel uncertainty. I don’t like the lack of rebounding. And I certainly don’t like their chances against a team like Kentucky or UNC in March.

FK: Final Four. I don’t think Syracuse would beat Kentucky, but I think it could. Other than that, the Orange is better than every other team in the country. We’ll really see the effectiveness of Syracuse’s depth come March, when the Orange’s stars will still be fresh.