Make no mistake, Syracuse is a serious national championship contender. Admittedly, they spent the first few weeks of the season crashing at a flophouse in Cupcake City, shacking up with the likes of Colgate, Fordham and Eastern Michigan. But they’ve also beaten Virginia Tech, Stanford and Florida, who are a combined 18-6 to start the season. The Orange are now 8-0 and, after Friday’s game against Florida, already have a win over a top-10 team to hang their hats on.
This early season dominance has been powered mostly with defensive swarm and smarm. By Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, Syracuse had the 11th stingiest defense in the country entering Monday night’s action. Credit should be graciously heaped on both the players and system. Jim Boeheim brought the 2-3 zone to Syracuse in the late Mesozoic era, and you wouldn’t still be reading this if you hadn’t seen it a time or two. The heart of that defense, as with most zones, is forcing action to the perimeter. Nothing different this year as 37.9% of their opponents’ scoring has come from beyond the three-point line, the 11th highest mark in the nation. But they’ve staunchly defended the interior, not just goaded teams away from the basket. They have the 4th best Blk% in the country and have held opponents to just 46.4% shooting on shots at the rim.
I know, I know, that rented flat in Cupcake City is inflating these stats, but Syracuse has made some dramatic improvements. Much of this progress can be tracked back to sophomore Fab Melo. Last season, Melo came in with sky-high expectations as a McDonald’s All-American and the 2nd ranked center in his high school class, according to Rivals.com. To say he underwhelmed as a freshman is like saying Steven Wright can keep a straight face. Melo’s struggles