There’s no denying that not only is there not a dominant team in college basketball but also that No. 9 Syracuse was a team capable of getting to Atlanta even without senior forward James Southerland.
But his return after missing six games for academic reasons makes the Orange a team capable of winning not only the Big East but also a national title.
Southerland shot just 4-of-10 from the field and scored 13 points in Syracuse’s 77-58 win over St. John’s but his return gives the Orange a consistent perimeter threat, something they lacked while he was sidelined.
Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. Fair scored 17 points apiece to lead the Orange, with Carter-Williams also dishing out eight assists and Fair grabbing nine rebounds. St. John’s, who played without head coach Steve Lavin due to the passing of his father, was led offensively by freshman JaKarr Sampson (21 points).
Southerland’s return gives Syracuse four players who can get them double figures consistently, with Carter-Williams, Fair and senior guard Brandon Triche being the others. And the task of scoring becomes “easier” for Syracuse now that their best perimeter shooter is back on the floor, as Southerland’s presence also opens the floor for Carter-Williams to set teammates up for quality looks.
Twenty of Syracuse’s 29 field goal were of the assisted variety, as the Orange found the gaps in the Red Storm zone at will and shot 53.7% from the field and 10-of-22 from three. In the six games Southerland missed Syracuse averaged 11.2 assists per game, with a high of 16 in their 63-47 win over No. 25 Notre Dame last Monday, and shot 41.8% from the field.
There isn’t a national title contender this season that doesn’t have a flaw and the same can be said for Syracuse, who will need more from big men Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita as they approach the stretch run (Keita played well on Sunday, scoring eight points and grabbing four rebounds).
But there should be little doubt that the return of James Southerland makes Syracuse a contender to win the national title.
Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.