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Boeheim Sticks To The Script In Tense Presser

November 30, 2011 1 comment

Tuesday night’s game was just an undercard to one of the most intriguing press conferences I’ve ever seen from Jim Boeheim. We all know about the “overrated” rant, “the best team didn’t win tonight” from the heyday of the Georgetown rivalry, “you don’t know your business”, and other memorable pressers. But as much as we’ve come to expect the unexpected, last night was different in that we knew going in that the atmosphere would be tenser than usual.

Before we get to that, though, I feel obligated to touch on the game. There wasn’t much to take from SU’s blowout win over Eastern Michigan, which sits in the dark, damp, sub-300 territory of Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. After a couple of close games, the Orange returned to lighter competition, but it was nice to see Rob Murphy back in the loud house and keep my mind off more important things, which is part of why I follow sports to begin with.

Once again, the Orange did a spectacular job on the offensive glass, rebounding half of their misses. Syracuse also shot well, especially from the three-point line and held onto the ball on its way to a 36-point laugher. While I like how James Southerland has improved, we’ve seen this movie before, and the limited chances he’s received against legitimate competition suggest he’s still on the outside looking in for a rotation spot. It’ll be nice to have him to fall back on if Kris Joseph’s knee starts acting up again or C.J. Fair has an off night, but I don’t expect him to get 19 minutes in the more important games of the season.

As for the main course of the evening, I think Boeheim did a good job handling the questions that mercilessly flew his way. From the moment he started speaking, you could tell that there were no fewer than 475,000 places he’d rather be, but considering the gravity of the situation and Boeheim’s reputation of walking, no matter how hot the coals get, I think he handled it well. There were definitely a few things worth discussing in greater detail here; not just about which angles were handled effectively, but also how his message and demeanor weren’t without flaws.

At first, Boeheim seemed rather uncomfortable as he read excerpts from the statement he gave Sunday night. It was crystal clear that there was a script to be followed, but as the conference progressed, it seemed like he gained more control and composure as he deviated slightly and opened up within the constraints put forth by the school’s legal and PR advisers. About halfway through, he somehow turned a question about the ovation he received before the game into a mini-soliloquy about his standing within the athletic department and lack of involvement with the school’s bigger decisions such as the flirtation and subsequent move to the ACC. This was never going to be a quick presser, but it became apparent that he was buying time for his players to get out of the locker room and head home without incident. It was a move that was more strategic than underhanded devoted to keeping his team focused in a pressure-packed environment, so some credit is due there.

Part of the deal of being a Syracuse fan is that you grow familiar with Boeheim’s style with the media simply as you follow the team. You get to see just how stubborn, passionate, and candid he is when he speaks with reporters when things aren’t so crazy. Tuesday night, it became clear that someone didn’t get that memo. Part of the intrigue of watching the press conference stemmed from the curiosity in deciphering who was familiar with his approach to handling the media and who wasn’t by how they persisted or grew flustered by his responses. There was a female journalist in particular who asked Boeheim about his job security, the team’s management of minors  traveling with the team and, more specifically, the level of responsibility Boeheim has over minors when the team is on the road. He laughed off the final question before circling back around to it – interrupting another reporter to do so –  but I couldn’t help but believe this specific journalist wasn’t getting the answers she wanted and that’s why she continued with such an aggressive tone. This is a hugely important story – there’s a reason it’s leading the national news networks – but while I respect that this woman, presumably a national reporter, has a  job to do, I’m not sure that Boeheim would have been as patient with her were it a circumstance that didn’t call for such a special combination of candidness (in being willing to field questions) and restraint (in sticking to a gameplan that involved deflecting certain topics). She definitely didn’t sound like someone who had spent any time around Boeheim or was briefed about what she was in for when she was put on the beat.

That doesn’t mean I believe Boeheim was fully in the right from all angles of the presser or that anything he said Tuesday night should be taken as a weapon meant to vanquish anyone who dare questions his involvement in the allegations. Frankly, I’m still not fully convinced he completely understands the severity of the situation, even if he’s nothing more than the guy who happened to be Bernie Fine’s superior when the alleged abuse incidents took place. As Boeheim waved some prepared words in front of reporters and gave his classic smirk whenever a question too volatile to answer candidly was raised, it became tough for me not to get a little flustered myself. There’s a time and place to brandish the sarcasm and all the other hallmarks of a typical Boeheim presser. Last night did not fall into that category. Boeheim may be human, but I don’t think that gives him carte blanche to undermine the sensitive tone that has ensnared the campus over the last two weeks.

All in all, I think the SU head coach did a solid job. He kept his team distanced from the swarm of media with some of his comments, didn’t throw any gas on the fire and stuck to his script in a situation that demanded nothing less. While I understand that it’s a part of Boeheim’s identity and I typically enjoy it, I could have done without the smarmy demeanor for once. I don’t think it’ll come back to bite him as hard as some writers have already suggested, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

Tuesday Notes

November 29, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s clear that until the leg of the Bernie Fine investigation that pertains to the university’s and Jim Boeheim’s knowledge (or lack thereof) is resolved, any game played on the court will provide little more than a couple hours of respite from all the chaos that has enveloped the program. My plan is to keep this blog basketball-related unless new developments in the story keep me from doing so. You won’t find much speculation here about what Bernie Fine did or didn’t do, what Jim Boeheim knew or didn’t know, what the school uncovered or didn’t uncover in its internal investigation, the credibility of the accusers, and on and on. That’s because if you read this blog, you probably know of other places to find that sort of thing. That doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion or that I’m going to ignore it because it casts the program in an unfavorable light, because I won’t, but just know what to expect when you come here as things drag on.

The holiday last week, along with the news of Bernie Fine’s firing, sort of jammed up my opportunities to reflect at length on the games at MSG, so I thought it appropriate to use today to unleash a few bullet points on what I saw at the Garden last week.

  • Though these games should not have been close, considering the disparities in talent, I have to admire the persistence showed by the Orange in both comebacks. It’s impossible to tell whether the investigation affected the team’s play or if it was just the fact that the level of competition was kicked up a notch, but it was nice to see the team respond and hang around before separating itself both on Wednesday and Friday.
  • In Wednesday’s game, I really enjoyed the lineup that was responsible for the comeback against Virginia Tech. Brandon Triche, Dion Waiters, C.J. Fair, Kris Joseph and Fab Melo were terrific and all five players were productive on both ends as the Orange finished the game on a 30-16 run. As much as I like Baye Keita’s defensive intensity and Rakeem Christmas’ shot-blocking ability, I’d rather see more well-rounded players who are fully capable on both ends instead of specialists who only excel in a more limited set of skills.
  • The NIT Season Tip-Off final against Stanford was one I’d like to forget due to all the turnovers and the poor shooting from the first half, but it was memorable from an offensive rebounding standpoint. SU rebounded 47.1% of its misses, Friday, which is a mark that the Orange doesn’t hit very often against competitive teams in non-con play. Since winning the national title in 2003, only three other times has Syracuse rebounded so many of its missed shots against a Power Six team outside of the Big East, and only one other time in the regular season. Advanced stats advocates say that offensive rebounding is one of the four biggest components to winning games, so it was good to see Syracuse clean up in that department.
  • One of the other big factors trumpeted by the Pomeroys and Gasaways of the world is turnover percentage. After all, it’s tough to score if you can’t hold onto the ball (how’s that for analysis?). Syracuse put up a similarly remarkable performance in that category, but for the wrong reasons. In the same sample used for the OR percentage (against non-Big East Power Six teams since the start of the 2003-04 season), only once has Syracuse turned the ball over more than 28.6% of the time, as it did against Stanford. Ironically, the other occasion – against Oklahoma State in 2006 – also came at the Garden. Obviously, that sample is somewhat limited when you recall that Boeheim doesn’t make a habit of scheduling big-conference teams in non-con play and that Syracuse hasn’t advanced deep enough into the Tournament to go up against many teams of that level, but I found it interesting anyway.
  • Those who come here even semi-regularly are familiar with my irrational favoritism of C.J. Fair, so I hope you we’rent expecting me to let much time go by before I praised him for the first double-double of his career, which he posted against Virginia Tech. It really speaks to his versatility and improvement that he can do something like that against a decent team on a neutral (ok…semi-home) floor in just his second season. If you really wanted to, you could pick at a flaw or two for everyone on the team, but it’s really hard to find something missing from Fair’s game. As his perimeter capabilities continue to develop, it’ll become even tougher to nitpick.
  • In the only point related to the Fine allegations that I’ll discuss today, it’ll be interesting to see the extent to which Rob Murphy comments on the situation tonight, assuming he discusses it. A quick Google search didn’t yield any P-S articles that included quotes from Murphy on what’s going on (though if readers know otherwise, please send them my way in the comments section), though I imagine he’s thankful to be coaching 500 miles away from the mess. With the allegations front and center, I’m sure he’ll be asked about his reactions, and I doubt we’ll learn anything beyond what other former assistants and players have already said about Fine, but I can’t help but think about how crazy it is that the narrative of Murphy’s return to the Dome will take on a meaning completely different than the goodwill tone when the game was first scheduled.

Bernie Fine Canned; Boeheim’s Fate Rests On Issue Of Complicity

November 28, 2011 Leave a comment

I would love for today’s post to be about how Syracuse dug itself out of a pair of second half deficits against Power Six opponents to gut out two nice victories. I’d love to talk about how much I enjoyed the lineup of Brandon Triche, Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph, C.J. Fair and Fab Melo to close out the win over Virginia Tech and the remarkable offensive rebounding prowess displayed against Stanford. That will have to wait for another time.

Last night, Bernie Fine was terminated by the school, which was about as easy a call as there is, despite how slowly Penn State operated. As many twists as the story has taken, it would be a colossal distraction and massive PR failure by the school were Fine to return to work at any point, and there is no realistic set of circumstances capable of fully restoring his reputation. What was a foregone conclusion is finally official, but it doesn’t bring any closure to the matter.

The case is now faced with a third accuser with an odd background, questions as to why ESPN nor the Post-Standard opted not to bring the recording to the proper authorities, what to make of the grudges among Syracuse Police, District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick and Mayor Stephanie Miner. And maybe of lowest priority but of greatest curiosity – what in the world made Laurie Fine decide that a proper response to her knowledge of the situation would be to have an affair with the victim, rather than bringing a close account to the authorities (to say nothing of getting out of the marriage)? It’s going to be awhile before we know the complete truth, if it ever comes out.

With Fine out of the program, the spotlight is now squarely on Jim Boeheim. It’s been mentioned before, but it’s worth reiterating that he made a spectacularly poor decision in attacking Fine’s accusers. While he had all the right in the world to support his friend and colleague, gross counter-accusations of extortion attempts and a slew of personal attacks should not have been a part of his public comments, and that assessment is not something that only works in hindsight. While disgustingly insensitive and shameful, I don’t think that part of the narrative is a fireable offense on its own, despite what many have posited. There are enough holes in the accusers’ stories and backgrounds that it isn’t unreasonable to believe that they’re out for money and/or fame, even if their allegations prove to be true. Rather, the only presumption keeping Boeheim’s employment intact is that to this point, there remains nothing other than one accuser’s hearsay that indicates that Boeheim knew any of the alleged abuse took place. Should that thread by which Boeheim’s hanging be cut, he definitely should be shown the door, no questions asked.

That brings us to the statement given by attributed to Boeheim following Fine’s dismissal. While it voiced regret over his original comments, the damage was already done, and the apology should not have been prefaced by the surfacing of damning evidence. It also seized the opportunity to emphasize that he never saw a thing, which we should only take at face value. The investigation is still in its beginning stages, and I have a feeling that things will get worse before they get better. Until then, the only thing left to cling to is the hope that Boeheim and the school had no direct knowledge of the abuse alleged to have taken place, as if that should be encouraging.

Colgate Game Provides Escape Before Allegation Talk Resurfaces

November 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Saturday’s game won’t be remembered nearly for the play on the court than it will be for the press conference that followed. Fortunately, the tension surrounding Bernie Fine didn’t impact the team’s performance, but then again, it’s hard to learn much from these games even in under normal circumstances. The Syracuse press looked porous the first few times the team tried it before tightening up to video game levels. Normally, games don’t end with one team having four more possessions than the other, but stealing inbounds passes as the Orange did to put the game out of reach in a hurry will do that.

I don’t expect Colgate to disappear from the schedule anytime soon, but one of the reasons I’m excited for this week’s games at the Garden is because the teams on the other sideline should be more competitive. As fun as these early blowouts can be, there just isn’t much to glean aside from the bench play. That’s not to say the bench didn’t impress – James Southerland was a nightmare once again, C.J. Fair flashed his fancy new outside jumper, Michael Carter-Williams looked the most comfortable he’s been in the short season and Baye Keita was a terror down low. It’s just difficult to make a truly accurate judgment of anything that happened without qualifying the hell out of it. More than anything, I was just happy to get away from debating hearsay and just watch basketball for a couple of hours.

Once the final horn sounded, all eyes turned to Boeheim’s presser, and in true Boeheim fashion, he at first declined to talk about the allegations against Bernie Fine before diving in and answering subsequent questions as they were raised. He just can’t help himself, but despite his curmodgeonly demeanor, his transparency and willingness to talk to media (even when not prompted) are some of his most redeeming qualities. He had already gone all-out in defending Fine when the allegations first surfaced, so in a way, there wasn’t much for him to lose by fielding additional questions Saturday. There was one particularly interesting segment of the conference when Boeheim was asked if he was concerned about the allegations negatively affecting recruiting. It was a very good question to ask, especially considering the momentum SU has gained in recruiting these past few years, and Boeheim dismissed it, mentioning that the staff doesn’t have any problem conquering the objection of the weather in Upstate New York.

Maybe Boeheim was just trying to deflate the tension, but “their assistant might be a pedophile” is a very different weapon for an opposing recruiter than “you don’t want to go there because the weather sucks.” A school is more than just basketball, and parents want to be comfortable packing their kids away somewhere where they don’t have to worry about a coach’s background and the fallout that could come from allegations. Sometimes, whether Fine is guilty or not doesn’t matter. The fact that there’s even suspicion  could be enough to get recruits, parents and other handlers to change gears. That may not be the case with everyone – confidence could be restored if and when Fine is cleared, Boeheim could diffuse the situation on the phone and in living rooms – but until there’s clarity one way or the other, the dark cloud will continue to hang.

Over the weekend, more interviews featuring Bobby Davis and Mike Lang surfaced, and they didn’t do anything to clear up a foggy historical account of what happened between them and Bernie Fine. We now have contradicting accounts of how Davis first met the SU assistant currently on leave – the original was an encounter when Davis was selling candy bars in the neighborhood, while the more recent interview indicated that Davis met him while playing basketball at a park. There’s also the matter of Lang coming forward now when he didn’t in any of the previous inquiries. I’ll hold out for the possibility that he was in fact abused and the urge to repress it was just too overpowering until the recent events at Penn State brought more awareness to the issue, but from an investigative and legal standpoint, the contradiction of his original denial with his newer story seems to call his credibility into question.

Until more victims or witnesses come to the forefront, Davis’s and Lang’s stories will continue to be murky, so it’s important that the Syracuse police conduct as thorough an investigation as it can.

Syracuse’s PR Machine Gets It Right

November 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Child abuse is wrong and should never be tolerated under any circumstances whatsoever.

Read that sentence to yourself five more times before continuing on to the rest of today’s post. Go ahead; I’ll wait.

The alleged molestation of two ball boys by SU assistant Bernie Fine left me aghast. Given the proximity in time, it’s natural to compare and contrast the circumstances with what Penn State went through earlier this month, even if the situations aren’t carbon copies of one another. A couple of weeks ago while the madness in Happy Valley was unfolding, a fellow Syracuse blogger on Twitter posed the question of what the reaction would be like if a disaster of similar were to be uncovered on the SU campus. I answered weakly that the possibility still seemed so far out of the realm of possibly to even speculate about how the public would receive it and how the university would act. It’s not that I had my head in the sand; I was still grasping the weight and ever-widening boundaries of the fallout at Penn State.

Until Syracuse’s police department finishes its investigation and releases its findings, only Fine and his accusers, Bobby Davis and Mike Lang, will know what happened during a stretch of a dozen or so years, but at this point, I can tell you that that the school’s administration has taken all the right steps to combat the outcry from the court of public opinion that is sure to come as the case is resolved. By immediately issuing a thorough statement addressing the school’s 2005 investigation, condemning such heinous acts and committing to protect the community, the school has acknowledged the gravity of the matter with a police investigation in the beginning stages.

The school went one step further in placing Fine on administrative leave. While this act of proactivity may end up looking like overreaction to some, it is absolutely the right move. If the school were to throw its trust behind Fine and not address his employment status only to see more evidence surface against him, SU’s leaders would never be able to live it down. Given the case study of inaction that PSU has provided, you don’t want to make that gamble, no matter how confident you are that the allegations are false.

And that brings us to Jim Boeheim’s immediate rise to Fine’s defense. He’s pushed every last one of his chips in, throwing his Hall of Fame career behind the trusted assistant he’s known for over 40 years. Over the years, we’ve learned to expect something like this coming from Boeheim. Very few coaches across the country are as candid or opinionated as Boeheim, so to see him give a response within mere hours of the allegations surfacing on ESPN was not the least bit out of the ordinary. His counter-accusation that Davis and Lang fabricated their stories in an effort to cash in may be a bit much, given that the nascent state of the city’s investigation, but then again, I haven’t had Bernie Fine by my side at home and on the road for over half of my life.

If there’s any silver lining to what’s happened at Penn State, it’s that victims of such deplorable acts of immorality, violence and abuse of power will feel more encouraged and empowered to bring up their own experiences. They’ll finally gain long-overdue closure and, depending on the statutes of limitation, send cruel monsters to prison in the process. But another unintended consequence is that a different subset will only see the situation as an opportunity to cash in on the heightened level of public awareness by shaming someone’s good name with baseless rumors. To be frank, that saddens me almost as much as when I see genuine victims coming forward – not because it impacts the reputation of a leader of the team I love, but because it pains me to see that there are people who don’t take child abuse seriously and only approach the raised cognizance from the standpoint of how they can game the system for their own benefit.

As a human, let alone a Syracuse fan, I hope against hope that the latter is what’s going on. I’d love to cling to the fact that prior investigations by the Post-Standard, the school and ESPN collectively turned up no corroborating evidence, but we’ll just have to see where the case takes us from here.

Non-Con Players To Watch

November 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Tuesday night, Dominican import Gerardo Suerdo was a pain in the neck for the Orange (well, as much as one player can be in an otherwise lopsided game). The 31 points from the Albany guard were the most by a Syracuse opponent in the Carrier Dome since Ryan Wittman went crazy for 33 for Cornell in 2008. Despite SU’s size advantage down low, Suero was able to at least get into the lane, if not score, whenever he wanted. Jim Boeheim was complimentary of his play in the postgame presser, but he also used it as a point by which to criticize his team’s defensive effort.

With the last rounds of the NIT Season Tip-Off coming soon, plus games against Florida, NC State and other non-con foes, today’s a good day to do a little advance scouting and talk about the most notable players left in the non-con portion of the schedule. They may be notable because of their experience, or for younger players, their promise and hype coming in, but they should attract as much, if not more attention by the SU defense than Suero should have.

While this is a Syracuse blog first and foremost, I’m a fan of the game in general and enjoy keeping tabs on teams across the country. With so many squads in Division I, there’s such a high level of variation in style and talent from top to bottom that you could trip over a good storyline or three for just about every team. There are ten remaining non-conference games on the schedule, so here’s a list of players to watch out for who could pull a Suero and get ‘Cuse fans talking. In no particular order:

1. Bradley Beal, Florida – The Florida game will represent SU’s biggest challenge of non-league play, not just because they’re the highest-ranked team, but because they have the shooters to test Boeheim’s allegiance to zone defense, and Beal may be the best of the bunch. A freshman from St. Louis, Beal comes to Gainesville as a gunner with high accolades. He was tabbed by RSCI as the country’s #4 overall freshman and was recognized as a McDonald’s All-American. In his first two games, he hasn’t been the least bit gunshy. Of his 26 shots attempted in two games, half of them have been threes, and he’s hit 30.8% of them, a number which will only go up.

2. Deandre Kane, Marshall – Last season, Kane was one of the nation’s highest-scoring freshman, contributing 15 points per game to the Thundering Herd’s cause, including an 18-point night in a win over West Virginia. While Syracuse doesn’t lose often at home before league play, Marshall carved out an ambitious schedule for this season, so don’t expect the atmosphere to set them back.

3-4. Keiton Page, Oklahoma State/Josh Owens, Stanford: Since the Orange will play either the Cowboys or the Cardinal, but not both, at Madison Square Garden after their game with Virginia Tech, naming a player from each team covers both possibilities. If you’re like me and follow other power conferences, you know that Le’Bryan Nash may be the most athletic player in the Big 12. While I think he’ll give the Orange a few fits inside, I’d be more concerned about Page getting hot from deep. A 37.4% accuracy rate from behind the three-point line is agreeable, and that’s what Page shot last season – but it was also the lowest three-point shooting percentage in a season for the 5’9″ guard, who is now a senior. Over 65% of his shots have come outside the arc, and he should be a primary focus if the Orange and Cowboys do battle.

Owens, on the other hand, is a big man, though like Page, he’s a senior. This Cardinal team is a far cry from the days of the Lopez twins, but the Atlanta native is a steady force down low and is considered the leader of an otherwise young and thin team. He doesn’t show much range, but at a Rick Jackson-like career 57.6% shooting percentage, he can convert inside without much of a problem. If Stanford draws the Orange, all eyes will be on the matchup of Owens against Syracuse’s back line.

5. Dorenzo Hudson, Virginia Tech – This fifth-year senior can score inside and out, and can hurt you at the line. This year’s Hokie team is capable of finally getting over the hump instead of sweating it out on Selection Sunday yet again, but it is the play of guys like Hudson and Victor Davila that will have to get them there.

6. Richard Howell, NC State – While CJ Leslie may end up being the better overall player, he was suspended for the team’s first three games, and if you remember, he missed last season’s game against SU with an injury. Howell has exploded in the early going for an average of 16 points and ten rebounds. Rebounding has always been his strong suit, but if his rejuvenated offensive game holds up against better competition, he’ll be one of the best posts threat to face the Orange before New Year’s.

7. Mike Muscala, Bucknell – Staying in the big man category, Muscala is the top forward in the Patriot League. The Bison dominated their league last season and returned everyone for this season, and they like to schedule BCS conference teams to get them ready. Muscala had a double-double against Minnesota earlier this month and another strong game against Vanderbilt. He also nailed a couple clutch shots last season to win games for the Bison, so if they somehow keep things close next month, he’ll be the one to keep an eye on.

8. Kendall Timmons, Tulsa – In just his sophomore season, Timmons did a ton for the Green Wave last year, averaging 17 points to go with eight rebounds and three assists. In an admittedly small sample, Timmons is torching opponents this season as well, shooting 65% overall and 40% on threes, so he may be another player that threatens a switch from zone to man defense with a hot shooting night. Conference USA is Memphis’ to lose, but there’s a lot of talent up and down Tulsa’s lineup that makes it a contender in the conference.

9. Patric Young, Florida – Tabbed as a breakout player by many this season, Young came around slowly in his freshman season as the best big man in Florida’s guard-heavy system. He’s a total beast down low, however, and already looks to be much improved. He’s the ideal complement to the Gators’ stable of shooters and will ensure that SU’s zone doesn’t hedge towards the outside. Young is by far the most talented post threat that will go up against the core of Melo, Christmas and Keita and after the Orange play Florida, ‘Cuse may not see a better big man until they meet Andre Drummond in February.

10. Tony Taylor, George Washington – Through two games, Taylor is averaging 20 points, which is a godsend for the Colonials, because the next top scorer is averaging just seven. Like Bucknell, GW returns a high percentage of its returning production, but Taylor is their horse, as he played over 30 minutes per game last season and is on his way to doing it again. Earlier this week, Taylor put up 20 against Cal, who may be the best team in the Pac-12, so he’s going to come into the Dome on December 10 ready to put on a show.

Balance Carries The Orange

November 16, 2011 Leave a comment

The Orange are now 3-0, and in all three wins, at least nine players who are battling it out for serious playing time cracked the scoring column. The depth of this team is uncanny, but the balance was even spookier. In last night’s 98-74 win over Albany, the starters contributed exactly 49 points, and the bench, unaided by the walk-ons for the first time this season, chipped in the other 49. Tuesday night, perhaps more than any other game in the short season to this point, upheld the notion that the Orange have a ton of players who can beat you, leaving opponents without the freedom to zero in on one player, as many did last season with Rick Jackson, in an effort to neutralize the ‘Cuse.

If you trap Kris Joseph driving down the baseline, he’s going to kick it out to an open Brandon Triche or Dion Waiters; Collapse on Fab Melo and his soft hands will deliver a pass to Baye Keita or Rakeem Christmas for an easy dunk; Swarm Baye Keita on the offensive glass and C.J. Fair will be there to clean it up. See what I’m getting at?

I feel depth as a strength is a touch overrated, and hearing “Jim Boeheim could go ten deep this year” is a November tradition that seems to date back further than the First Thanksgiving. But balance, depth’s bossy older brother, is what will put SU over the top. At any given position on the floor, there isn’t a single player who’s carrying the full load. Someone made the observation (and I need to find out who, so readers, please chime in here) that this team is like Noah’s Ark, because there are two of everything. I’m a big fan of the metaphor because a few games into the season, there’s a lot of truth to it.

At the center spot, Fab Melo is averaging 7.7 points and 6.7 rebounds in 19.3 minutes. In about half the time, Baye Keita is averaging six and three. Going down to the power forward position, Rakeem Christmas is still learning, but is averaging six point and four rebounds in 18 minutes of action. James Southerland and Fair are getting time at the four spot as well as the three – Southerland is shooing out of his mind with a 64% clip, and as a result, Fair’s been more active defensively than offensively. Joseph is holding down the wing, but when he needs a break, Southerland and Fair have proven plenty capable of keeping teams from using his absence to spur a run. In the backcourt, Dion Waiters, Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine have been terrific as a unit – see their combined 15/2 assist-turnover ratio. Individually, Scoop’s been a little quiet, but Triche and Jardine have each enjoyed fiery stretches, which has allowed Michael Carter-Williams to get plenty of reps.

No one has played more than 27 minutes in any of the first few games, and while that probably won’t hold up as the competition stiffens, the balance means that there isn’t a single player who has proven that he’s not good enough to be considered for a rotation spot. Fans may argue that with three games against mediocre competition, a team ranked fifth in the country should be be able to spread the wealth, and I wouldn’t disagree. While playing time is being doled out like cars at an Oprah taping, however, nearly everyone is doing the most they can with it. Maybe because in the back of their minds, they have a strong feeling that the rotation will be cut down after all and want to make sure they’re a part of it come January, maybe not, but the team as a whole is definitely benefiting.