MILWAUKEE -- "Any more coaches here? Want to ask another coaching question? I'd be happy to take it. I've only been doing this 37 years, I'm sure you've got more ideas of who we should play or we shouldn't play -- or who should lead? What do I know?"
It was vintage Jim Boeheim, especially following a loss. Syracuse has dropped five of its last nine games -- and Boeheim has been as ornery as ever. He admitted to me a month or so ago that he realized his team had plenty of deficiencies even though the Orange were rolling. The 'Cuse was 15-1 at that point and there was talk from some that this might just be the best team in the nation.
The wheels haven't fallen off, but this team's weaknesses have been exposed of late. Rakeem Christmas isn't Fab Melo, and hasn't given this team much on either end of the floor. The perimeter shooting has been so lackluster -- except for James Southerland and role player Trevor Cooney -- that just about every opponent opts to play zone defense against the 'Cuse.
There's no killer on this team, either. Not enough toughness. If there's one player who Boeheim truly misses, it's the guy he was ready to run out of the program two years ago: Dion Waiters. Leadership is also an issue. The veterans are seniors Brandon Triche and Southerland, along with steady and underrated junior forward C.J. Fair. But they aren't leaders.
Someone needs to step up. Sophomore Michael Carter-Williams is the most talented player on the team, but he's got plenty on his narrow shoulders. He's still figuring out the balancing act of getting his teammates the ball, and when to go get buckets. That contributes to his erratic play at times.
I asked Boeheim about the leadership -- or lack thereof -- moments after his team came up short against a Marquette team that does't possess nearly as much overall talent. Boeheim had just finished answering a question from Michael Cohen, a young writer from the Daily Orange, on why he didn't play freshman big man DaJuan Coleman, who was available after missing the past seven games due to a knee injury. It was a valid inquiry, especially after Marquette big man Davante Gardner had his way with the long and slender athletes that Boeheim tossed on the court Monday night. Coleman is a subpar defender, but he's got the bulk to, at the very least, give Gardner a different look. It was certainly worth the risk since Gardner was almost single-handedly tearing up the 2-3 zone
"How important is it having a leader right now when you're going through this tough stretch, having a guy that can step forward, a guy that can take over?"
Normally, I try to avoid asking questions in group settings because everyone has access to the answer. I prefer to walk with the coach after the postgame presser back to the locker room or even the bus. However, my column would be focused on Marquette -- and I didn't want to miss Gardner or Buzz Williams.
"I don't even understand that," Boeheim said of my question. "You think because you come to Marquette and lose a three-point game you need a new guy? I don't."
Boeheim is right in that there's no shame in losing at the Bradley Center, where Marquette now owns the longest current home winning streak in the country. But it's more than that. This team is under .500 over the past month or so, and lost at home to Georgetown over the weekend in an emotional game in which former 'Cuse star Carmelo Anthony's number was retired.
Syracuse came out flat in that one. Against Marquette, they failed to put Marquette away on multiple occasions.
There was virtually no communication between the players on the court. No one was talking. Carter-Williams made attempts, but it didn't always appear that his efforts were well-received by his teammates. Leadership is important -- especially in the midst of a losing streak toward the end of the season.
Who will step up and get this team together? That was my question -- and it was a valid one.
Just as the ones ESPN's Andy Katz likely asked Boeheim more than a year ago in New York shortly after the Bernie Fine news broke, the ones that triggered Boeheim to refer to Katz as both an "idiot" and "disloyal."
I enjoy Boeheim. I miss Jim Calhoun. Rick Pitino's postgame news conferences are pure entertainment. Boeheim concluded his latest postgame rant of sorts with the following. "Go get your Pulitzer someplace else."
It was funny.
Boeheim and his peers have every right to call us out for stupid questions. However, Katz isn't an idiot or disloyal -- and the questions on Monday night weren't out of line, either. They were valid.