|Syracuse had its usual, reliable zone defense in mid-season form for its season-opener. (US Presswire)|
It's tough enough to score against the vaunted Syracuse 2-3 zone. Then throw in outdoor conditions that included significant wind and no shortage of sun -- and it's downright impossible.
This Syracuse team doesn't look much different, despite losing lottery pick Dion Waiters, fellow first-rounder Fab Melo, leading scorer Kris Joseph and starting point guard Scoop Jardine. We'll see if anyone has that toughness and killer mentality of Waiters, but this team has a similar makeup as the one that was among the most feared in the country a year ago prior to the dismissal of Melo.
Brandon Triche is the veteran, Michael Carter-Williams takes over for Jardine at the point and has far more upside. Rakeem Christmas moves into the role vacated by Melo -- and DaJuan Coleman gives Jim Boeheim a guy who can score down in the post. The final starter is C.J. Fair, who doesn't necessarily have a position, but he is vastly underrated. If you are counting, that's 6-foot-10, 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-8 up front and 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-4 in the backcourt.
It wasn't just the sun that was responsible for San Diego State's inability to make shots on Sunday afternoon aboard the USS Midway. Credit the Orange.
San Diego State shot just 27 percent from the field, made just 1-of-18 shots from beyond the arc and the Aztecs were also brutal from the line (14-of-33). Syracuse wasn't exactly potent shooting the ball, either, but the Orange aren't necessarily reliant on the perimeter shot -- although they do have guys who can make them from deep (i.e. James Southerland and Trevor Cooney).
Fair and MCW both led Syracuse with 17 points. Triche added 15. Coleman and Christmas didn't do much on the offensive end, but both showed glimpses -- and were effective on the defensive end. Baye Keita is also big man Boeheim has at his disposal and won't hesitate to play along the backline.
This was an impressive win for a program that doesn't make a habit out of leaving its home state in non-conference play, never mind going 3,000 miles way. The No. 9 Orange knocked off a 20th-ranked team in its home city.
The Aztecs are obviously better than they showed on Sunday afternoon -- in adverse conditions. However, Steve Fisher's team has to get more production from All-American candidate Jamaal Franklin, who had just two points in the first half. Franklin and Chase Tapley, one of the nation's elite shooters, were just 6-of-25 from the field.
But it wasn't just the wind, the sun or the nerves.
Boeheim lost plenty from a year ago, more production than just about any team in the country. But one thing he didn't lose: The zone.