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Will Syracuse’s hot start cool off this winter?

by - Published January 10, 2012 in Full Court Sprints
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Syracuse is officially on the clock.

As of Jan. 9, the Orange look an awful lot like the best team in the country. But considering that it’s still early January, that’s not terribly surprising. The question is whether Syracuse will still look like the best team in college hoops in another two months as the NCAA Tournament approaches.

Since the Orange won the championship in 2003, Syracuse has made a habit of starting hot, building a record at least nine games better than .500 each season. In half of those seasons, the Orange have had a record as gaudy as at least 15 games better than .500.

But each season, the team has fallen apart for one reason or another. In some cases, it’s a lack of leadership to handle adversity when the team inevitably drops a tough Big East game or two. In other cases, the downfall has been rifts in team chemistry, sometimes leading to suspensions or poor play. And injuries have factored into a few of the collapses.

In sum, Syracuse has not finished a season better than three games above .500 after the Orange’s struggles creep into the picture. Why would this team be any different?

To start, this team has fantastic depth. Ten players average at least 12 minutes per game. Seven players contribute at least seven ppg, but no one scores more than 14.1 ppg, and that’s senior swingman Kris Joseph. In addition, the Orange have superior height than nearly any other team in Division I, with nine players who stand 6’4” or taller.

Coach Jim Boeheim has helped this team navigate through the tumultuous Bernie Fine affair without any semblance of a disturbance on the court. Compared to the off court drama, Boeheim must be happy dealing with any complaints about playing time that come from his talented players — if there have been any at all. Only two players are averaging more than 25 minutes per game, but as far as we can tell, everyone has embraced his role on the team. And that is leading to win after win.

At some point, the Orange will likely drop a game or two in Big East play. Road games against Cincinnati, St. John’s, Louisville, Rutgers and Connecticut are potential land mines. But unlike in recent years, this team seems built to overcome the struggles of one night. Boeheim has the Orange playing their best basketball in eight years, according to Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency stats. If Syracuse can maintain its 1.202 points per possession on offense and 0.883 points per possession on defense, both those numbers will be the best marks for offensive and defensive efficiency for the years that Pomeroy has data available (since 2003).

In a season filled with talented teams, Syracuse has earned its No. 1 ranking, and the Orange should remain near the top from wire to wire. And for Syracuse fans, a strong finish to bookend a strong start would be a refreshing change of pace.

We go coast to coast with news from around the college basketball nation.

Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman is in the thick of serious allegations after several people at the Bears’ game at South Carolina State said the coach punched Morgan State senior Larry Bastfield during the game, according to ESPN.com news services. The school has indefinitely suspended Bozeman while looking into the accusations. Bozeman and Bastfield say the news is much ado about nothing — with that nothing being an accidental bump during the game, as Bastfield described it.

Xavier coach Chris Mack made his point, then paid the price. Mack missed the past couple of days after tearing a tendon in his left knee while dunking to re-energize the struggling Musketeers, who are 2-5 in the past few weeks, writes USA Today’s Marlen Garcia.

Arizona State coach Herb Sendek has accepted the departure of leading scorer Keala King, who left a few days after Sendek suspended him for unacceptable conduct, according to a CBS Sports.com wire report. King’s departure is a massive loss for a pretty bad Sun Devils team. King averaged 13.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg and 3.3 apg.

St. John’s scored a talented point guard when former Texas A&M sophomore Jamal Branch decided to transfer to the Red Storm, writes the New York Daily News’ Roger Rubin. Branch averaged 4.2 ppg and 2.5 apg for the Aggies, and he chose St. John’s over several other suitors.

Michael Jordan’s son Jeff has decided to leave Central Florida, according to an Associated Press report. His brother, Marcus, remains with the Golden Knights, as Jeff cited personal reasons for his decision.

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