Syracuse looking like a champion

The only team that could keep pace with Kentucky is North Carolina.

That’s all I keep hearing from college basketball analysts. Kentucky is too good, and the Tar Heels are the only squad in the country that would be able to beat them.

But what about the Syracuse Orange?

I watched their 71-69 victory at Connecticut last night, and I have to say I’m sold. Kentucky has the speed and talent that makes them a freakish basketball team, but the Orange really wowed me last night.

I know what you’re thinking — they barely beat a mediocre UConn team, how could they be a national championship contender?

Well, the 29-1 Orange aren’t going to win every game by 30 points (heck, Kentucky struggled at home with Vanderbilt, who I think is a 4- or 5-seed at best), and winning in Storrs still isn’t easy. Syracuse got out to a 43-29 lead at halftime, and the way they played that half left me very impressed.

They play above the rim. I mean, it was a dunk contest in the early-going.

Now, that might not be enough to win a national title, but the Orange also play defense. In their last 14 games, only one team has scored 70 points or more — St. John’s. They scored 70 on Feb. 4, and they lost by 25.

They have so many options on offense, another reason why I think they’re upset-proof in the coming weeks. They have Kris Joseph (14.2 points per game), Dion Waiters (11.9 ppg), C.J. Fair (9.2 ppg) and Scoop Jardine (9.1 ppg). They have Fab Melo, an absolute grown man on defense (5.7 rebounds per game and 3.1 blocks per game, both team-highs). And they have a coach in Jim Boeheim, who has been there before and knows what it takes to get back to the big stage.

Not bad for a program that could have packed it in when the distractions of a child abuse scandal rocked them before the season even started.

With a season-finale against the 17th-ranked Louisville Cardinals coming up on March 3, the Orange have already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Big East Tournament. They’ll have plenty of chances in the next two weeks to make their case for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

But I’m already sold. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Orange are one of the best teams in the country, and if they’re not the best team in the nation, they’re certainly in the conversation.

Editor’s note: hit 20,000 page views this morning … thanks to everyone for reading!

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