PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Wesley Johnson is Syracuse’s star. The player that will be the headline persona going forward, the one that will be in the top-five picked in the NBA draft whenever he comes out.
But if you’re looking for the reason Syracuse is two wins away from securing an outright Big East regular-season title and likely No. 1 seed next month, then zero in on fifth-year senior Andy Rautins.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim isn’t just playing politics with his senior class by saying that Rautins may be the team’s most valuable player. Johnson agrees. So, too, do a fair amount of other observers, including Providence’s Keno Davis. Davis witnessed Rautins bury eight 3s (in 12 attempts) in Syracuse’s wild offensive affair, a 99-85 win over Providence at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center Tuesday night. The Friars had 14 3s, attempting 33 of them in a game in which they led by five at the half.
Davis said Rautins is a game changer and someone who you can see has improved so much over his career. Rautins isn’t someone who improved his game in just two hours of practice a day, his coach said. Clearly, he has put in the extra work. But what is clear as well is that Rautins isn’t just a shooter, even though that was his staring role Tuesday night. Rautins was bringing up the ball on a number of occasions to jump start the offense. He dished out four assists, had just two turnovers and one steal in playing all 40 minutes.
“Without a doubt he’s more valuable than people give him credit," Johnson said. “He’s very underrated. He brings a lot defensively. If he’s not the leader, no it’s not if, he is the leader on this team. He brings the energy. He picks us up during timeouts and at halftime he gives us speeches when we’re down. He’s showing a little bit of everything that he’s not just a shooter."
Rautins had his moments when he had off nights on 3s, like shooting 2-for-10 in a tight game at DePaul. But even in that game he pulled in six boards.
What Rautins said he did Tuesday night was stay aggressive, do what the team needed. Providence gave him plenty of open looks in transition as the game was played at an up-and-down pace.
The success of Syracuse has been its unselfishness this season. And Rautins seems to exude that every time he steps on the court. He doesn’t hunt his shot at the expense of others.
“It’s nice to see when he gets rolling," said former Syracuse guard Gerry McNamara, who is a graduate assistant with the Orange. “When he does, that basket is as big as it can be. He’s as good a shooter as I’ve ever seen. It’s not that he makes timely shots, he makes big shots for this team and obviously is one of the leaders."
McNamara was a senior when Rautins was a freshman. He said he has seen Rautins mold his game and change his body.
“I’m proud of the way he’s worked," McNamara said. “It’s not by accident. He has worked as hard as anyone in the program."
Rautins had to come back from an ACL injury to become an even more efficient player, too.
With the Orange facing Villanova Saturday, in what should be another monster Big East showdown, Rautins is at the top of his game -- primed for another Syracuse moment this season. It has become a dream year for a squad picked to finish in the middle of the Big East.
“We had lofty goals at the beginning of the season but nobody expected us to do much," Rautins said. “Throughout the Big East we’ve done a lot of hard work. We’re looking forward to Villanova. Clinching and winning the Big East is all great but it’s further down the road. We’re just looking forward to Villanova right now."