Syracuse’s matchup with Kansas State today points to a game where a big individual performance by an Orange may be needed. The Wildcats will likely try get SU into a slow down game to take its offense out of rhythm. If the transition game isn’t there for Jim Boeheim’s bunch, a “go-to guy” will need to step up and take the reigns to get tough buckets in crunch time.
Will the senior duo of Scoop and K-Jo be those players to help carry this team to the Sweet 16? If not, the Big East tournament showed that Dion Waiters can fill that need. While the Orange burned out under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden with its semifinal loss to Cincinnati, DW elevated his game on the big stage. Waiters scored 28 points on 7-10 three point shooting against the Bearcats. He was the only SU player with some offensive juice in the first half in Thursday’s tournament opener against UNC Asheville. He paced the Syracuse offense with 18 points in last Thursday’s win over Connecticut. The Orange may need that today.
Waiters loves the big stage, as we learned from his 18 points on 8-10 shooting in last year’s tournament loss to Marquette. It’s nearly impossible to survive the six-game run of March Madness without an explosive scorer. A look at the past few champions proves as much. UConn rode Kemba Walker’s magical run to the title, Duke relied on the scoring prowess of Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, and North Carolina’s championship run was led by the ACC’s all time leading scorer Tyler Hansborough.
Dion is the Orange’s best option for that type of performance, as he has eclipsed the 15-point mark in a dozen games this season. It’s no coincidence Dion has been front and center in SU’s most dominant outputs this year. He poured in 22 in a 16-point win at N.C. State, 20 in a road blowout at Villanova, and 18 in the 18-point victory over UConn at the Dome. Syracuse has made its living with huge runs in which it seizes the momentum of a game in the blink of an eye, and Waiters has been the catalyst for nearly all of those runs.
One of the major criticisms of this team throughout the season is that it lacks a true alpha dog. But, Dion has shown the mentality of that type of player. In the first half Thursday against the Bulldogs, he helped keep the offense productive when everyone else seemed still asleep at the team hotel.
If we know anything about this SU team, one guy won’t be able to do it all by himself. Kris and Scoop will need to contribute much more than they have in the three games since the regular season ended. But an NBA-level scorer is widely considered one of the universal characteristics of a championship team. While this team does have some flaws, the lack of a premier scorer is not one of them. Dion has them covered in that area.
Posted: Steve Neikam