With the Syracuse Orange having recently ascended to their third #1 ranking in five years, a lot of the talk has been if Jim Boeheim’s squad is the team to beat. The notion has been phrased different ways; “the national title Syracuse’s to lose”, “The title is there for the taking”, but all boil down to the idea that Syracuse is really, really good and deserve their share of time at #1. The fact that Syracuse’s selection was the first unanimous one since Duke in the 2010-11 season lends weight to that argument and, of course, a 23-0 record doesn’t hurt either.
Yet, looking back at that Orange this season, another phrase comes to mind when I think of this particular squad: a team of destiny.
Now, what do I mean when I say that? Do I mean that I literally believe some cosmic entity has preordained the Orange to win a national title? Well…no, of course not. What I mean is that whatever it’s taken for Syracuse to win, that’s exactly what has happened.
This is the part where you say, “Well, duh, that’s what good teams do,” and you’d be right. It just seems almost uncanny how the games play out with such precision. Syracuse needs six points from Tyler Ennis in the final minute to beat Pittsburgh? Done. A team that is historically “meh” from the free throw line needs to shoot 89% for the Maui Invitational to come away with the tourney title? Got you covered. No matter what the need, the Orange have found a way. Let’s take a look at a couple of games that, on the surface, seem completely different, yet illustrate the point perfectly.
So, what did you notice? Of course C.J. was outstanding with his career-high 28 points. But look at the way he scored them. He pulled out every variety of pull up J, pirouette to the rim and put back he has in his arsenal. He made most of them and Syracuse needed every single one. The Blue Devils didn’t have anyone who could guard him. He was the guy who needed to keep Syracuse in the game. He’s the only one who could have. And he did it. Just what the Orange needed.
Now, go back and look at the Notre Dame game, contested just two days later (again, I’ll wait.)
We all know the story. Extreme hangover game for the ‘Cuse, bailed out by nine threes and a career-high 33 from Trevor Cooney. And, like C.J two days prior, Trevor did it in a variety of ways. He hit threes spotting up, he hit them coming off screens, he hit them in transition, he hit them off the dribble. Every which way you can make a three-point shot, Trevor Cooney did that. He won the game for Syracuse and he was the only one who could do it. Just what the Orange needed.
Now, I can’t just leave it at that. Destiny doesn’t win titles, even for the best, most dominant teams. Examining this year’s Syracuse team is almost an exercise in zen meditation. Just as important as the shots taken and made are the shots not taken. Again, contrasting the back-to-back Duke and Notre Dame games. Cooney shoots a phenomenal 9-12 (75%) from three againt the Irish. You expect that from a player who’s hit five or more threes eight times this season. You’d expect it from a guy who has almost 100 more three point attempts on the season that his closest teammate (163 to C.J.’s 64). Yet, just two days before, in what was arguably the biggest game of his life, he shoots a mere 2-2. Two three-point attempts, his lowest of the season. This team isn’t about taking the easy shot. It’s about finding the best one.
Therein lies the core of what makes this team so good. Despite lazy announcers insisting that Syracuse is a team that wants to get out and run and play a high scoring game, that’s not what this squad is about at all. They’re about patient, deliberate basketball on both ends of the floor, and they do it well on both ends of the floor. They’re about getting the best possible shot on one end and eliminating the best possible shot on the other. It’s a deliberate style of play that comes down from Jim Boeheim and is executed perfectly by his team, starting with his freshman point guard.
Which brings me to the point of Syracuse being a team of destiny. What makes Syracuse so good is that they play their own game, no matter what. They’re very much like an NBA team in that regard. They know what they want to do and trust in the game plan to get them the. No one panics when they trail late to Duke or Pitt. No one panics when they trail Villanova big early. They just play the game. And, in a way, they create their own destiny. By always playing in control and with poise, the Orange dictate the flow of the game, not the other way around. It’s a key element winning and it’s one this team seems to have mastered early on. Will it carry them to the promised land? Only time will tell.
What do you think? Love it? Hate it? Leave your comments below.
Chris Daughtrey is the creator and author of Bleeding Orange. He is a contributor at Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician and at Atlantic Coast Confidential. You can connect with him on Twitter @OrangeBlood 44 or search #OrangeBlood.