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Seven stereotypes that explain why Syracuse is so elite

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Last week I had the pleasure of seeing the No. 1 team in the country up close and personal. It may have only been two games, but to watch this team from the baseline, to listen to coach Jim Boeheim speak after the game, and to see what fuels this team left no doubt in my mind they’re truly elite.

Assuming Butler doesn’t cut through another slew of elite programs, discerning between the handful of teams we’ve identified as “title contenders” suggests no clear favorite. If you can get to the final game in New Orleans, anything can happen.

With that, here’s the most compelling case for Syracuse to be one of two teams left standing by April 6, with seven stereotypes often found on National Championship winning or runner-up clubs, based on my in-person observations from the past week.  

The unassuming star: Brandon Triche

          Similar to: Nolan Smith (Duke, 2010); Jamar Butler (Ohio State, 2007)

If Planet Earth is invaded by aliens or a meteor threatens humanity, I’m hunting down Triche and following his lead. He’s incredibly calm – unwavering really – and efficient on the offensive end. “We have a bunch of go-to guys, not just one,” Jim Boeheim said after his team’s win over Providence.

That may be true, but Triche is at least the Orange’s go-to guy when they need a bucket most, and he’s head and shoulders above his peers in terms of basketball IQ.

The upperclassman leader: Kris Joseph

          Similar to: Kyle Singler (Duke, 2010); Brandon Rush (Kansas, 2008)

Arguably the game’s best senior, KrisJo has enhanced his offensive skill set since last season, improving his 3-point percentage (42.6) even though he’s shooting more of them per game. He’s the center of every team huddle, and has the biggest smile on his face whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Every championship winning team has a face that camera’s can’t pan away from. Joseph has the most raw talent on this roster, and he seems to be having the most fun out  there. He’s revel as a leader come March.

The super sophomore: Dion Waiters

          Similar to: Arron Afflalo (UCLA, 2006); Gilbert Arenas (Arizona, 2001)

Filling out the Orange’s talented backcourt rotation is Waiters, who appears to be the only NBA Lottery pick of the bunch. In person, Waiters almost impossible to contain for multiple possessions. Where Triche and Scoop Jardine have little problem beating their man off the dribble, Waters can do that and also slice through the second layer of defense to get a lay-up or dump pass to a big man.

At third in the conference in steals, despite committing only 1.5 fouls a game, Waiters is also a savvy defensive player. Unless there’s an injury, Waiters should never start a game.  For the only “Major Contributor” on this team to come off the bench must frighten opposing coaches.

The sophomore who’s growing up: Fab Melo

          Similar to: Joakim Noah (Florida, 2006)

Alright let’s all admit the Melo is sort of an awkward dude. He has a propensity to foul, looks like Eeyore, and always seems to run with extreme caution. But for Syracuse’s patented 2-3 zone to be effective, it must be long down low. His success is integral to this team’s success, especially as Boeheim shortens his rotation and limits Rakeem Christmas’ minutes.

The maturation of Melo is still in progress, but you rarely get a polished seven-footer right out of high school, so I’d say the Brazilian is actually meeting realistic expectations.  

The freshman that would start for any other team: Michael Carter-Williams

          Similar to: Marvin Williams (North Carolina, 2005)

In only five minutes of play against Providence, Carter-Williams scored four points and looked very comfortable in a road atmosphere. Then Brandon Triche hit four consecutive shots  to open the second half, and MWC wasn’t seen from again. He didn’t even step on the floor against Marquette.

“Michael played so good in the first half he probably thought he’d be in there in the second half,” Boeheim said after the Providence win. “But when you’re on the road and you got a guy like Brandon Triche and he makes four in a row, well, it just seems like a good idea to leave him in the game.”

It’s not an issue of talent. Carter-Williams really could start for a bunch of teams in the country. For now, though, he’s the subject of a bar room argument, the player fans point to when explaining to people just how historically this team is.

The fan-favorite bench player: Mookie Jones

          Similar to: Mark Titus (Ohio State, 2007); Wes Miller (North Carolina, 2005)

Once thought of as a soon-to-be-transfer after being buried on the Orange bench, Mookie Jones has stuck around Syracuse and developed into a lovable player that doesn’t really play. Every teammate of Jones has a personalized handshake with the senior forward during the starting line-ups, and Jones himself has publically said he feels like a celebrity on campus.

Basically, he’s your quintessential off-court glue guy who doubles as the human cigar.

The polarizing player: Scoop Jardine

          Similar to: Durrell Summers (Michigan State, 2009); Billy Edelin (Syracuse, 2005)

Last year, Jardine’s decision making was arguably the biggest reason Syracuse did not advance past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. While he’s turning the ball over at a bit higher rate this season, I only counted two (JUST TWO!) ill-advised shots from Scoop during the Providence and Marquette games.

This guy doesn’t have to score for Syracuse to win,  there are too many weapons on offense he can defer to. Every bad shot taken by Scoop is one less opportunity for a good shot a teammate could take later in the possession. Considering the Orange are averaging seven more points a game this season than last, and Jardine is averaging four less points a game, I think this kid is finally coming around –  looking to facilitate first, and score second.

That alone could be the difference that allows this team to win the 2012 National Championship.

Nick Fasulo is the manager of Searching for Billy Edelin. He did not go to Syracuse. Follow him on Twitter @billyedelinSBN.

BUBBLE BANTER: All of tonight’s bubbly action in one place

Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie calls to his team during an NCAA college basketball game against Central Florida, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016 at the CFE Arena in Orlando, Fla. (Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
(Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
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Tonight’s schedule. This post will be updated as the games are completed.

UConn (KenPom: 19, RPI: 46) at Temple (KenPom: 95, RPI: 69), 7:00 p.m.
Florida State (KenPom: 37, RPI: 38) at Syracuse (KenPom: 39, RPI: 44), 7:00 p.m.
VCU (KenPom: 32, RPI: 40) at UMass, 7:00 p.m.
Arkansas-Little Rock (KenPom: 41, RPI: 63) at Louisiana Monroe, 8:00 p.m.
Northern Kentucky at Valparaiso (KenPom: 22, RPI: 48), 8:00 p.m.
No. 4 Iowa at Indiana (KenPom: 24, RPI: 51), 9:00 p.m.
No. 11 Oregon at Cal (KenPom: 44, RPI: 32), 9:00 p.m.
Washington State at Colorado (KenPom: 56, RPI: 29), 11:00 p.m.
Gonzaga (KenPom: 33, RPI: 66) at Portland, 11:00 p.m.
Pepperdine at Saint Mary’s (KenPom: 26, RPI: 52), 11:00 p.m.
Oregon State (KenPom: 81, RPI: 31) at Stanford (KenPom: 104, RPI: 71), 11:00 p.m.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Big Ten showdown and key bubble battles

Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff (20), Christian Williams, center, and Adam Woodbury, second from left, and Michigan State's Deyonta Davis (23) and Eron Harris (14) reach for a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 4 Iowa at Indiana, 9:00 p.m.

As a result of their surprising loss at Penn State Saturday night, Tom Crean’s Hoosiers enter this pivotal contest a game back of the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten standings. And with their backloaded conference schedule, this is a game Indiana has to get if they’re to entertain thoughts of winning the Big Ten title. Two of the Big Ten’s best players will be on display in Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, but both have plenty of help behind them offensively.

Iowa’s Peter Jok has been one of the conference’s most improved players, and the Hoosiers can counter not only with forward Troy Williams but with freshman center Thomas Bryant as well. The key in this one: turnovers, as Indiana has lost the ball on more than 20 percent of their possessions in conference play. That can’t happen tonight if they’re to win.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 11 Oregon at California, 9:00 p.m.

The Ducks have been the class of the Pac-12 to this point, but a win in Berkeley won’t come easy. The Golden Bears may not be enjoying the success many expected before the season began, but Cuonzo Martin’s team has won all 14 of its home games this season, most recently whipping rival Stanford last weekend.

The problem for Cal: Tyrone Wallace is still out due to injury, and given Oregon’s many versatile scoring options that’s a problem. Pac-12 POY candidate Dillon Brooks leads the way, but Chris Boucher has emerged as one of the conference’s best big men in recent weeks. Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb and Jordan Mathews will need to come up big, as this is a huge contest for Cal’s NCAA tournament hopes.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  • The top two teams in the Big West get together in Honolulu, as Hawai’i hosts UC Irvine (1:00 a.m.) in the first of their two meetings this season. This will be a matchup of strengths when the Bows have the ball, as they lead the Big West in two-point field goal percentage (54.7) while UC Irvine leads the conference in two-point percentage defense (38.9) thanks in large part to 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye. Hawai’i forward Stefan Jankovic (15.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg) has been a much-improved player under first-year head coach Eran Ganot, leading the team in both scoring and rebounding.
  • Two ACC teams with matching 6-5 league records meet at the Carrier Dome, as Syracuse hosts Florida State (7:00 p.m.) in a game both teams need for their respective NCAA tournament résumés. Jim Boeheim’s team should be well-rested, as they haven’t played in nine days, and they’ll need that energy to slow down FSU guards Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Malik Beasley and Dwayne Bacon. The Seminole backcourt is young but talented, and they’ll face two fifth-year seniors in Syracuse’s Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney.
  • Picking up a home sweep of Utah and Colorado may have given Oregon State’s NCAA tournament hopes some life, but they really need to go on a run here. Tonight’s game at Stanford (11:00 p.m.) represents a good opportunity for Gary Payton II and company to win their third straight, but the Cardinal did win the first meeting in Corvallis back on January 6. In that game rebounding was the deciding factor (Rosco Allen finished with 21 and eight boards, too), as Stanford grabbed half of their available missed shots. OSU can’t let that happen again.
  • With SMU ineligible for postseason play, the other American Athletic Conference teams are jockeying for position in next month’s conference tournament. Tonight UConn looks to avenge its home loss to Temple January 5 with a win in Philadelphia (7:00 p.m.). Since Amida Brimah’s return the Huskies have played much better basketball, as they have their rim protector and a finisher for Daniel Hamilton’s alley-oop passes back on the court. The Owls have won their last three games, and tonight is their second-best remaining opportunity for a quality win (they play No. 1 Villanova next Wednesday).
  • At this point, no one’s catching Wichita State for the Missouri Valley regular season title without the Shockers collapsing in epic fashion. But when it comes to who can earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, both Illinois State and Evansville have a shot. The two teams meet in Evansville tonight (8:00 p.m.), with three of the Valley’s best players on display in ISU’s DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell and Evansville’s D.J. Balentine and Edigijus Mockevicius. Evansville won the first meeting by 11 in mid-January, as the Redbirds shot 6-for-31 from three on the night.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • Mercer at Wofford, 7:00 p.m.
  • Hofstra at William & Mary, 7:00 p.m.
  • High Point at Coastal Carolina, 7:00 p.m.
  • James Madison at College of Charleston, 7:00 p.m.
  • Milwaukee at Oakland, 7:00 p.m.
  • Pepperdine at Saint Mary’s, 11:00 p.m.