There were a few minutes in the second half of Wednesday night’s game between Syracuse and Villanova where it looked like the Wildcats would make it an exciting finish. But the Syracuse Orange (18-0, 5-0 Big East) did what they’ve done against every other opponent this year: they won. The final score is closer than this one felt. The Villanova Wildcats (8-9, 1-4 Big East) looked out of sorts all night, as the Orange rode a 20-2 first half run to an easy victory.
The star for the Orange was sophomore and Philadelphia native Dion Waiters, who put up 20 points on 8 of 13 shooting in front of several family and friends in attendance.
The kid is a flat out stud, even causing Fran Fraschilla to make a comparison to Dwyane Wade during the broadcast. The amazing part is Waiters comes off the bench. That’s how talented Syracuse is. If tonight’s game is any indication, Coach Jim Boeheim has one special team on his hands.
Villanova, on the other hand, is probably going to limp to the finish of a season that will likely end the program’s streak of seven straight NCAA tournament berths. Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek have struggled to fill the “go-to guy” void left by the departures of Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes. Wayns averages just over 17 points on the year but was held to merely 3 by the vaunted Syracuse 2-3 zone.
The success of Syracuse’s zone has always been based on the length and effort of the Orange players. It is by no means a lazy zone. The movement, help defense and traps are a beauty to behold. Perhaps the key to the whole defense this year though is Fab Melo, the 7’0 sophomore from Brazil.
Rated the 14th overall prospect coming out of high school by ESPN, Melo’s freshman season was largely disappointing. Coming into 2011-2012 though, he was thinner, better conditioned and has become a force in the middle, averaging 2.9 blocks per game. He had 10 blocks in a 75-49 win over Seton Hall earlier this year.
All of this raises a few inevitable questions: When will Syracuse lose? Can anyone in the Big East challenge them for the conference title? How far will the Orange go in March?
Let me say this.
Syracuse has the deepest team in the country. They play a true nine-man rotation and everyone is capable of contributing, as evidenced by their leading the nation in bench scoring. I haven’t even mentioned Kris Joseph or Scoop Jardine!
They just happen to be on the Preseason All-Big East First and Second Teams, respectively. Throw in experienced point guard Brandon Triche and big men CJ Fair, Baye Keita and James Southerland, and we have a bona-fide national championship contender, ladies and gentlemen. Look for the Orange to remain undefeated for a while too, as they don’t face a ranked team until February 8 when Georgetown visits the Carrier Dome.
By David Schuman