Le Moyne who? On Thursday night Syracuse routed California, ranked No. 13 in the AP poll, 95-73. It was the defense of Syracuse that really made the difference. The Orange held the Golden Bears to just 40% from the field and 30% from long distance. This was a California team that returned much of their roster from last year and led the nation in three-point shooting at 42.7 percent.
It should be noted that Cal was missing Theo Robertson due to a foot injury. In the first two games of the season Robertson averaged 18 points and had hit four of six three-pointers. But I don't think Robertson would have been able to close the gap that much. Syracuse frustrated Cal with their vaunted 2-3 zone. The Orange had a major size advantage and exploited it on both sides of the floor. On defense, they blocked nine shots and got their hands on many passes. On offense their big men, Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson, combined to go 8-for-13 for 20 points.
Scoop Jardine scored a career-high 22 points and added six assists and four steals. Jardine had been backing up freshman Brandon Triche but after this performance Boeheim might start to reconsider his starting lineup. Jardine was aggressive driving to the hoop and that made for some easy buckets. The other star for Syracuse was the hyped transfer from Iowa State, Wesley Johnson. Johnson had 17 points, 11 rebounds, and six blocks. He's long, quick and athletic and is a perfect fit in the zone. In addition to his six blocks he also altered a few others by jumping out at shooters on the wing. The scary part is Boeheim said after the game, "and you only saw about 50% of what he's capable of doing."
The win was a big one and it advances Syracuse into the championship game of the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament at Madison Square Garden where they will face an even bigger challenge. Friday, they will face the sixth-ranked Tar Heels who beat Ohio State, 77-73. Syracuse will be trying to snap UNC's 44-game winning streak against non-conference opponents.
The biggest question mark early in the season for the Orange is who is their go-to scorer? When the game is on the line who is going to take that last shot? Right now it looks like Wesley Johnson would assume the role but through the first three games they haven't had a player step up as the dominant scoring threat. But maybe they don't need one. Maybe it will be a complete team effort all season and one of six different players could lead them in scoring on any given night.
It's too early to tell how good they are but an early season
game against the Tar Heels should be a good test. This game also could mean the
difference in seeding come NCAA Tournament time. A win on a neutral floor
against UNC would look good on their resume. The win might also help fans cope with the fact that Tobias Harris, a top-ranked recruit in next year's class, chose Tennessee over Syracuse. He must have really wanted to anger Cuse fans as he made his announcement in Times Square at ESPNZone which is just blocks away from MSG where the Orange were playing. The kid is from Long Island though, so I guess it makes sense.