Thursday, March 8, 2012
Syracuse as unselfish as it is deep
By Dana O'Neil
NEW YORK -- Three seats in on the bench, Scoop Jardine jumped around like a little kid -- high-fiving Michael Carter-Williams, motioning to his teammates on the court to get back on defense or to slow down the tempo.
In other words, Jardine acted like a happy scrub.
Only Jardine isn’t exactly accustomed to being a spectator. He’s a senior, with at most eight more games left in his collegiate career. He’s a guy who averaged 30 minutes a game last season.
And there he was, logging all of three minutes in the second half.
“I know a lot of people would say that this is hurting my future or whatever, but if we win, everybody will get noticed," Jardine said. “Of course I’d rather be out there, but this is about winning a national championship. If I’m having a bad game, Dion [Waiters] can pick me up. If Dion is having a bad game, Brandon [Triche] can pick him up. If it’s not Brandon, it’s me. We’re all on the same page. We’ve got each other’s back."
All season, everyone has pointed to Syracuse’s depth as a reason it could win a national championship.
Lost in translation of the definition of depth: unselfishness. This hockey-line rotation that coach Jim Boeheim can call on wouldn’t work if starters were pouting when they're yanked or subs were crabby that they aren’t starters.
"If we win, everybody will get noticed," Scoop Jardine said of playing only three second-half minutes.
That's why guys like Jardine can sit back and enjoy the show while others run it. Syracuse is now 31-1 and in the Big East tournament semifinals courtesy of a 58-55 win against Connecticut.
“They’ve all bought into the fact that this is what they have to do to win games," Boeheim said. “I’m sure they don’t always like it. I know Scoop doesn’t like sitting out like that, but they want to win."
In a lot of ways, the Orange defy the modern-day standard for championships. There is no obvious future NBA star on this team, no current lottery pick.
There’s no collegiate star, for that matter.
In a typically tight game against Connecticut, Syracuse won on the deft shooting of James Southerland, who scored only 10, but each of those points was critical -- including a 3-pointer that cut a onetime Huskies lead of eight to one, a jumper that gave Cuse a six-point cushion and two free throws to ice the victory.
Forgive UConn coach Jim Calhoun if he didn’t concentrate his scouting on the junior.
Southerland hadn’t hit double digits in scoring since the Notre Dame loss on Jan. 21. In between, he’s tossed up three goose-egg games.
“It felt really great out there, especially being at home and all," said the Queens, N.Y., native. “The first one I felt was good; the second was kind of rushed. It’s good my teammates are here for me. They’re not giving up on me just because I missed two shots, and it feels good."
That the Orange have so many choices was especially obvious against Connecticut, which hasn’t been able to develop a consistent third scorer all season. Shabazz Napier tried to do too much, taking ill-advised forced 3s or driving to the hoop with too much recklessness, and shot 5-of-17.
Jeremy Lamb didn’t do enough, finishing with only 10 points.
Now the Huskies will wait to see whether they did enough as a team to merit an NCAA tournament bid.
“We probably have as many quality wins as anybody in our position," Calhoun said. “I am not going to make a pitch for it. I trust the basketball committee, and there’s no doubt in my mind they will look at it, and if what they say is true, that they want you to play good people, I think 22 out of 32 top 100 teams is probably a pretty good schedule."
Syracuse, of course, has no worries. At this point, there is no imaginable scenario that would keep the Orange out of a No. 1 seed with ticketed dates in Pittsburgh and Boston.
Before that, of course, Syracuse has business to finish in New York. The Orange have not won a Big East tournament title since 2006, when Gerry McNamara worked his Garden magic.
“We want to win," Jardine said. “It’s that simple."
And if that means being head cheerleader instead of leading scorer, the Orange to a man are just fine with that.