Balance Carries The Orange
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.