A combination of factors have brought the Orange to this point. They are playing outstanding defense most every game. My hat off to coach Jim Boeheim for getting this year’s squad to buy into the defensive scheme. The squad doesn’t have the individual talent level as last year’s team, but they have far more guys willing to play defense and willing to play Boeheim’s defense. I think the exhibition loss to LeMoyne, where the Orange played straight man-to-man defense for the whole game may have helped convince the players; I’ve got to believe the cagey veteran Boeheim had that in mind.
It is a veteran team, in the sense that two players are in their fifth year of college basketball (Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku), another is in his fourth year (Wesley Johnson), and two others in their third year (Rick Jackson and Scoop Jardine). They have not played together as a unit for a long time, but they do have a lot of practice time and exposure to college basketball. And that helps.
Syracuse also has a very balanced and deep team. Boeheim is going only 7-8 players deep per game, but the talent of those 6th-8th players is excellent. Jardine could be starting for Syracuse, and Kris Joseph would likely be starting at several other programs. Mookie Jones would be a very nice starting shooting guard in other programs (he still has to learn to play some defense, and to pass the ball, to get more playing time this year).
Seven different Syracuse players have scored 20 or more points in a game this season. No other Syracuse team has ever done that. That means that on any given night, there are seven guys on the court who can not only lead the Orange in scoring, but also do it with some solid scoring. The list includes the five starters (Triche, Rautins, Jackson, Johnson, Onuaku) and the top two reserves (Jardine & Joseph). Johnson, Joseph and Jackson all have double-doubles this year (points, rebounds), also helping out up front.
There have been other Syracuse teams with six players who scored 20+. The last team to do it was 1981-1982 when Leo Rautins, Erich Santifer, Tony Bruin, Gene Waldron, Ron Payton and Sean Kerins all pulled the trick. The previous to that was the 1976-1977 squad (Boeheim’s first) with Roosevelt Bouie, Louis Orr, Jimmy Williams, Ross Kindel, Larry Kelley and Dale Shackleford all meeting that number. That team came very close, with Marty Byrnes reaching 19 points in a game.
The first Syracuse team to have six players who scored 20+ in a game was the 1967-1968 squad. Vaughn Harper, George Hicker, Wayne Ward, Ernie Austin, Richie Cornwall and Frank Hamblen all performed the feat that season. That team was beset with personnel issues (a few suspensions) and some infighting that ultimately led to a losing season.
There have been a few teams with five players who scored 20+ in a game. The last was the 2007-2008 team with Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, Donte’ Greene, Arinze Onuaku, and Paul Harris. That team also had four players score 20+ points in one game (in a 107-100 loss to UMass on November 28, 2007).
Another notable team with five players was the National Championship team in 2002-2003 (Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara, Hakim Warrick, Kueth Duany and Billy Edelin), further confirming it was not a one-man team as many erroneously tend to remember.
The golden era of Syracuse hoops, 1986-1989, had three consecutive seasons with players scoring 20+ points in a game. And there have been eleven other teams with that distinction in the Boeheim era.
The 1999-2000 squad also had five players who scored 20 in a game. Etan Thomas, Damone Brown, Ryan Blackwell, Tony Bland and Preston Shumpert . Senior point guard Jason Hart, who was certainly capable of scoring 20 points in a game (he had done it previous seasons) had a personal season high of 19.
The 1999-2000 squad is very similar to this year’s Orange squad. It was a veteran team with three seniors starting (Thomas, Blackwell and Hart), all having been starters for at least three years, and two juniors (Brown and Allen Griffin). It had a very balanced offense with five players scoring in double digits, the leader being Thomas with only 13.6 ppg. The squad was very deep with eight players playing virtually every night. One of the reserves, Griffin, had been the starting shooting guard the previous season, and Shumpert was probably the best offensive player on the team, and he came off the bench.
The squad had five different players who rotated at the guard position (Hart, Bland, Griffin, Shumpert and DeShaun Williams), whereas this year’s team has three guys sharing that position.
The 1999-2000 squad played outstanding defense. Etan Thomas would be named the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Jason Hart was an outstanding ball hawk, and Blackwell was a solid low post defender. Brown, Bland and Shumpert were all long players, ideal for the Syracuse zone defense. The team kept 22 of its opponents under 70 points; only one team scored more than 80 points and that was Louisville with 82.
That squad would start the season 19-0, and would get to as high as #4 in the polls. They would go 5-3 down the stretch in the Big East season, and would win the Big East regular season title with a 13-3 record (24-4 overall). They would unexpectedly bow out to Georgetown in the first round of the Big East Tournament, then beat Samford and #19 Kentucky in the NCAA tournament. They would play #2 ranked Michigan State, in Michigan, in the Sweet Sixteen. Syracuse would have a fourteen point lead, which the Spartans would eventually knock away at and tie the game up at 58-58 with six minutes to go. The Orangemen then collapsed, and the Spartans scored the last seventeen points of the game to win 75-58. Michigan State would go on to win the National Title. Syracuse, had them down, and let them slip away.
The 1999-2000 squad finished on a disappointing note… but clearly they were a good team, one capable of doing a lot of damage.
The Orange take on Cincinnati tomorrow at 2:00. Let’s hope they can continue their season in unchartered waters, and go to 23-1.