There are countless reasons why Syracuse basketball is one of the best teams in the Big East. There are two reasons why the Orange could be poised to deliver Jim Boeheim his second National Title.
- Dion Waiters
- Fab Melo
The duo shined again in last night’s Big East opener against Seton Hall. Waiters led all scorers with 15 points, and Melo broke the program single-game shot-blocking record (while finishing just three rebounds short of a triple-double). The emergence of these sophomores has been well-chronicled, but Dion and Fab deserve to be lauded even more. Because by season’s end, there’s a tremendous chance they’ll equal the difference between good and great.
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What were your two main complaints about the Orange following another early NCAA tournament exit this past March? Probably the same as The Fizz: the absence of a legitimate go-to scorer, and general inconsistency. Translation – a team that relies solely on Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine isn’t a good enough team to stage a deep tourney run.
That’s exactly why this Fizzster wasn’t buying into the hype when he heard prior to the season that SU had Final Four potential. The Orange is blessed with solid veteran leaders and incredible depth, but it appeared doomed to fall flat on its face in March once again, because its best players had irreparable deficiencies.
Those deficiencies still exist, but now they rest behind a nice comfy mask, bearing the complexion of Waiters and Melo.
Try this for a test: Five minutes left in a tie game. Pick the two SU players you MUST have out there. The rest of the Orange scholarship players are chosen at random to fill out the other three spots in the lineup. Who would you pick?
Back in August, unless you were an irrational Scoop-basher, you’d have taken Jardine and Joseph.
Now? That decision gets much more challenging. Waiters, as the most dynamic scorer on the roster, is an easy choice. And Melo is a wise pick for spot #2. His “value over replacement” (to borrow a popular sabermetrics term used in baseball) is higher on this team than Joseph’s. C.J. Fair and James Southerland have a shot at replicating Joseph’s value as a scorer, rebounder, and defender, while Melo blows Baye Moussa Keita out of the water on both ends of the floor. He is simply a stud on defense, and SU gets substantially worse on D without his presence on the court.
Whether or not you agree with those selections, it speaks volumes about the progression of Dion and Fab that an argument could be made for their importance over the Orange’s senior leaders.
Heading into the season, the sophomore class was the wild card. The main question was whether the inefficient, turnover-prone Jardine could lead SU to the promised land. That question will never be answered, because it has been erased. The improvement of Syracuse’s sophomores has taken the burden off of its seniors, allowing everyone to play more confidently and selflessly.
Ironically enough, if either one of their respective offseason situations had taken even a slight turn for the worse, Waiters and Melo might not be playing for SU anymore.
But since their tumultuous offseasons, both Dion and Fab have successfully answered all questions about their character and ability on the court. Soon enough, they might silence the doubters further, many of whom think Boehiem can’t lead his Orange past a Sweet 16 without the other Melo.
Posted: Andrew Kanell