Syracuse’s depth may be a crucial difference come March

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No. 1 Syracuse is starting to amaze people. The Orange are off to an 18-0 start for the second straight season, but unlike the 2010-11 squad that seemed to pull out close games, this year’s version hasn’t had many.

Because they’re crushing it.

A 79-66 win against Villanova on Wednesday was the latest version of Jim Boeheim’s deep, talented team exhibiting its skills: Defense (8 blocks, 6 steals), solid inside play (51 percent from inside the arc), solid work on the glass and great depth (10 guys played, only one for more than 30 minutes). The final margin wasn’t an indication of how well Syracuse played, particularly in the first half.

Don’t believe me? Ask Villanova coach Jay Wright. Here’s a quote from Philly.com:

“We’ve played against a lot of great Syracuse teams, even back when I was an assistant and they had Sherman Douglas, Billy Owens, Rony Seikaly, but I don’t remember them having a team with this kind of depth…A lot of teams have talent but don’t play together well and aren’t unselfish. These guys come off the bench, they do the dirty work, play their role. It’s a really special team.

“…It’s a lot of little things, fundamentals, they’re very well-disciplined in. Like everyone goes to the glass, every play. It sounds simple. But it’s a hard thing for kids to do.”

The depth isn’t something Boeheim usually sticks with throughout a season. He’ll often shorten it to six or seven guys. Ten? He may as well be coaching a football team.

Still, two guys (freshmen Rakeem Christmas and Michael Carter-Williams) don’t play a huge chunk of minutes. Christmas starts, but much like Fab Melo from last season, he doesn’t see the court much after that. Luke Winn noted in his power rankings this week that the 6-9 forward actually logs the fewest minutes among full-time starters on elite teams.

Guys like Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph, Brandon Triche and C.J. Fair, along with Fab Melo and his shot-swatting skills, remain the team’s focal points. But I’ll be interested to see how this depth plays out this season given that the 2009-10 squad was derailed by an unlucky injury to Arinze Onuaku right before the NCAA tournament.

If nothing else, the depth gives Boeheim more to work with if the Orange are that unlucky again.

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