PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Because of its bench, Syracuse can separate itself from nearly every team in the country.
And calling it a bench may be a disservice. There are no backups. No scrubs. This is a team that goes nine deep without a hiccup.
Drop-off? None at all.
“Their bench is ridiculous,’’ Providence coach Ed Cooley said after the Friars lost 87-73 to the top-ranked Orange in a game it led by five points seven minutes into the first half and was within two possessions in the second.
“They’ve got pros coming off the bench. They’ve got a great team. They’ve got starters off the bench, like [Dion] Waiters. He may be one of the best players in the country. They’ve got guys who didn’t play who would start for us. I like their team. I love them. I just don’t coach them.’’
Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim does. And it's possible he has never had a rotation quite like this one.
Sure, Boeheim has coached a number of NBA all-stars. And he’s had teams with multiple pros. But in his 36 seasons, he said he hasn’t had a team that there was no need to keep just one or two players on the court at all times.
Center Fab Melo may be the only player who is somewhat irreplaceable without a comparable backup. But on any given night, Boeheim won’t hesitate going with any of the other eight -- forwards Rakeem Christmas, Kris Joseph, C.J. Fair and tweeners James Southerland and Michael Carter-Williams and then guards Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and Waiters.
Six of the nine players scored in double figures Wednesday night, and every time you looked up it seemed like someone else was contributing.
“I’ve said this about this team,’’ Boeheim said. “We don’t have the one or two guys that you have to leave in the game the whole game that are that much better than six, seven or eight. When we had Derrick Coleman we had good players at seven and eight, but not ones that beat them in practice.’’
Boeheim said coaches prop up their bench players, but “there’s no question that C.J. Fair and Dion Waiters could start for anybody, just about. People in Syracuse think they should be starting, and as soon as we lose a game they’ll be telling me that.’’
Carter-Williams scored five points in four minutes against the Friars and could have easily demanded more time. Yet, Triche got hot and made four 3-pointers and wasn’t about to come out. Boeheim said he wants Carter-Williams to be irked that he didn’t get more time.
“I’m going to go with veterans until they get beat,’’ Boeheim said.
When will that be for the 16-0 Orange? Well, the Big East road isn’t all too bumpy in the near future and it might not come until a late-January road trip to Cincinnati. The two toughest road games are in February at Louisville and Connecticut.
The beauty of this team is the selfless play from everyone involved. The locker-room mojo so far has been smooth.
“I’ve never been on a team with subs like this,’’ Waiters said. “It’s crazy. We continue to get better and make each other better in practice every day. We’ve got some of the best guards in the country.’’
Jardine said the Syracuse team of two seasons ago with Wesley Johnson and Andy Rautins had depth. But nothing compared to this squad.
North Carolina and Kentucky have plenty of depth as well. And those two teams have more NBA-level players. But it appears Syracuse has perhaps more balance from one through nine, which would sure seem to indicate the Orange will be in this thing for the long haul.
“We want to win a national championship, that’s our goal,’’ Jardine said. “That’s our focus. And we’ve got a great chance to do that.’’