No. 1 Syracuse soaring — with a healthy bench boost

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Syracuse’s first game as the new No. 1 saw the Orange start slow, make a big run, coast for a bit the  finish strong for an 88-72 win at N.C. State. Not exactly the perfect result, but it was more than enough to keep them unbeaten and enjoy a solid victory.

“Not to say that we’re arrogant, but we’re No. 1 in the country for a reason,” senior Kris JenkinsJoseph said afterward. “Going into someone else’s home, it’s always going to be tough. Like I said, we held our composure — that’s what I took out of this game.”

Also notable? Syracuse’s stellar bench.

As the Syracuse Post-Standard noted, the Orange outscored N.C. State’s bench 46-4. Dion Waiters scored a team-high 22, while C.J. Fair and James Southerland combined for 22. Bench scoring is a loaded stat, however. Coaches have different philosophies on starters, who plays what, etc. (For example, Waiters and Fair played 32 and 29 minutes, respectively. They’re not exactly languishing on the bench.)

But that production’s impossible to overlook. N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried certainly noticed.

“Their depth is good, but I would say that he’s got a couple guys on his bench that could easily be starters,” Gottfried told the paper. “I think he likes the fact that he’s got that scoring coming off the bench.”

It’s even more notable because Boeheim isn’t usually a guy who relies on a deep bench. He acknowledges that Waiters and Fair receive ample playing time, but they don’t have to start to produce. It’s not like he’s about to mess with a formula that’s helped his team start 11-0.

“These guys have all bought in,” Boeheim told the paper. “I’ve never had a team that’s played these kind of minutes in my 36 years of coaching. I’ve never done this. We’ve really split the minutes up. … To be able to sit on the bench and come in and be productive — that’s a great thing.”

Fair actually logs the second-most minutes on the team (23.9 a game, or 61 percent of the available minutes, per kenpom.com), behind Joseph’s 29 a game. Multi-year starters like Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche? They’re doing their thing, scoring efficiently, dishing assists, but are playing far fewer minutes than last season. (Southerland and sometimes starter Rakeem Christmas actually log roughly the same minutes.)

And it’s working.

The offense is clicking (particularly on the offensive glass and from inside the arc) and the defense is its usual impressive self (good luck holding onto the ball or getting off a clean shot).

At some point, Boeheim’s likely to cut down on the minutes of guys like Baye Moussa Keita and Michael Carter-Williams so they’re not even a factor. Christmas could be the same, though the freshman forward’s too talented to sit very much. That leaves Syracuse with an eight-man rotation, which is probably ideal for Big East play and potentially making a serious run in March.

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