The last time Syracuse won a national championship, some dude named Carmelo Anthony was a freshman. Since then, Jim Boeheim has had a consistent spate of impressive teams, especially in recent seasons -- since 2008-09, Syracuse is 85-23 with a Big East regular-season title (2009-10) and two Sweet Sixteen appearances (2009 and 2010) mixed in for good measure.
But there's an argument to be made that this year's team, with its unique blend of talent, depth and versatility, is the most talented team Boeheim has had since 'Melo, Gerry McNamara and Hakim Warrick were doing their thing. One trait unlike the Anthony-era Orange is this batch's lack of a true star, but that might actually be a good thing; none of Boeheim's current players has to be a star. Each excels in different ways, giving the Orange approximately seven or eight ways to beat you every single game. And when you get all that long, athletic talent and drill it into Boeheim's trademark 2-3 zone, well, look out.
So, what does Carmelo think about this current team? Does it have the goods to replicate his achievement? SNY's Adam Zagoria asked the man himself:
“I went up there to the game they played Florida, talked to them, tried to send some positive energy toward their way and it seems like they’re all on board, all on track,” Anthony said [...]. “I think they can win it all,” Anthony said. “I’m biased, you might not agree with that. They have the talent, they have the team.”
Obviously, Carmelo is a bit biased, but that doesn't mean he's wrong. Frankly, it's still so early that a lot of teams can plausibly claim to "have the talent" to win it all. And plus, sometimes having the talent to win it all doesn't matter as having the luck to win it all, or the crazy call in the Elite Eight to win it all, or the insert-your-circumstance here ... to win it all. And yeah, this Syracuse team does have that kind of talent. Maybe other teams have more talent, but hey: Why not?
One obvious reason some may be inclined to give is the possible distractions presented by the ongoing Bernie Fine mess, which most recently resulted in a defamation lawsuit Fine's accusers filed against the school and Boeheim for comments Boeheim made in defense of Fine after the initial accusations were published by ESPN. The accusers' attorney is, it should be noted, none other than famed American lawyer and women's rights activist Gloria Allred. When the notoriously camera-happy Allred is on the case, you know you've got a media circus on your hands. And a media circus can be distracting.
Still, Anthony told Zagoria that he thinks the Orange are focused and "have no distractions." To this point, you'd have to agree. It's a bit remarkable that Syracuse hasn't gotten sucked up in the whirlwind of campus uncertainty and the constant presence of TV trucks, but, lo and behold, the Orange have risen to the test and played solid basketball no matter what that day's headlines entail.
Can they keep that focus for an entire season? We'll see. In the meantime, though, the Fine mess -- and the expectations of success that preceded it -- haven't seemed to bother Brandon Triche, Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph, Fab Melo or the other members of this incredibly deep and talented Syracuse team. Given the circumstances, how impressive is that?