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Will 'Cuse turn out like '05-06 Gators?

12/10/2009

It’s official: Syracuse is the team that everyone missed on this season.

The Orange could be the squad, much like Florida in 2005-06, that wasn’t a consensus Top 25 team preseason (No. 25 in the coaches’ poll, unranked in AP), yet still won the national title.

Yes, the Orange are in contention for the national title. Why shouldn’t they be?

Florida wasn’t ranked to start the 2005-06 season because it was hard to gauge how much the ‘04s (Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Taurean Green and Corey Brewer) had improved. No one knew the karma that squad would show throughout the season.

Syracuse had the high-profile transfer in Iowa State’s Wesley Johnson and returned sharpshooter Andy Rautins, but did anyone have a clue that Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku could be this much of a defensive presence? How clear-cut was it that Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine would work so well together at the point.

The Orange were the better interior defensive team in the 85-73 SEC/Big East Invitational victory over Florida in Tampa on Thursday night. The 'Cuse didn’t shoot the 3-pointer as well as the Gators (going 3-of-13 as compared to 12-of- 30), but the Orange was the more composed team down the stretch.

Syracuse has shot up to No. 6 in the country -- and might go ever higher next week. But more importantly, there is no reason to dispute that this is a legit Big East title contender and must be in play for a No. 1 seed.

I know it’s way early to be discussing these Joe Lunardi-like Bracketology things. Syracuse has plenty of potholes left, but the road schedule in the Big East isn’t as daunting. Syracuse avoided having to go to Villanova or Connecticut. The Orange do go to West Virginia, Georgetown, Notre Dame and Cincinnati, and if Louisville can become a player again later in the season then closing out at Freedom Hall could be trouble.

But Syracuse continues to win the big games, with wins already over Cal, North Carolina and Florida. That's three wins over three ranked teams, all by at least a dozen points.

As the resume continues to improve with each game, that Syracuse-Florida preseason-to-postseason parallel becomes even more palatable, even if it is just mid-December.