Super subs enjoy roles off the bench

He's the second-leading scorer and top perimeter defender for the best college basketball team in the country.

Still, when the lineups are announced before each game, Syracuse guard Dion Waiters never hears his name.

He admits it used to "mess with me a little." "I was one of the top 15 players in the country coming out of high school," said Waiters, a sophomore. "I expected to start as soon as I got here."

Two seasons later, Waiters still opens each contest on the Syracuse bench. Only now, instead of despising his role, he relishes it.

In the past, being in the starting lineup was considered a status symbol among college basketball players, a source of pride. But more and more these days, substituting is becoming chic as top players from some of the nation's best programs make their mark off the bench.

Waiters isn't alone. B.J. Young leads Arkansas in scoring with 14.8 points, but his first few minutes of each contest are spent on the pine. The same thing goes for Will Sheehey (10.7 points) of Indiana and Michael Dixon (12.8 points) of Missouri. Both players are more than good enough to start.

Kentucky senior Darius Miller has started off and on throughout his college career but is now enjoying one his best collegiate seasons as a reserve. Mike Rosario averaged 16.7 points a game at Rutgers in 2009-10 but now comes off the bench for Florida.

Picking a sixth man of the year won't be easy.

"To this day I can't understand why kids are so concerned about starting," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "If you're still playing 30 minutes a game, why does it matter?"

It certainly doesn't to Bears junior point guard Pierre Jackson.

The transfer from the College of Southern Idaho has been the catalyst behind Baylor's 16-0 start. With averages of 11.9 points and 4.9 assists, Jackson is clearly the best guard on Baylor's roster. Yet Drew opts to start junior A.J. Walton ahead of Jackson, who still plays almost 27 minutes a game.

The move, Drew said, is strategic.

"When Pierre comes in, the speed of our team and everything else just picks up," Drew said. "We start off going 55 miles per hour, and now we're at 70 miles per hour. He gives us a boost right as some guys might be beginning to slow down."

Drew learned firsthand how effective the tactic could be through his experience with Quincy Acy, who was Baylor's sixth man the past three seasons even though he was good enough to be a starter.

"To come in when things might not be going right and get a dunk or a block … it's a spark," said Acy, who is starting as a senior. "The crowd gets into it. It gives you an extra boost and makes the players want to play hard."

Sixth men also said they gain a mental advantage by opening the game on the bench. Waiters said he watches the first few minutes of each game as though he's a coach. He looks for tendencies in the player who may be guarding him and tries to detect flaws in the opposing team's scheme.

"When I'm on the bench," Waiters said, "I'm just looking to see what kind of shots they're giving us and what kind of opportunities my teammates might not be taking advantage of. I'm a sponge when I'm on the bench. I'm soaking up everything so that when I get in there, I can find the holes and things like that."

If you can look back at the game and say, 'I didn't start, but I impacted the game and my team won' … you should be happy about that.

-- Syracuse's Dion Waiters

Waiters, who averages 12.9 points per game, said his goal is to be an "instant game-changer."

"By the time Coach [Jim] Boeheim walks over and says, 'Let's go,' … that's all I need to hear," he said.

Coaches said the key to using would-be starters as reserves is the attitude of the player involved.

Senior Russell Robinson was the starting point guard for Kansas' 2008 national championship squad, but sixth man Sherron Collins was clearly the best player the Jayhawks had at that position.

Collins said he knew how important starting was to Robinson and that a lineup change could cause tension, which would disrupt chemistry. So instead of complaining, he embraced the role.

"A lot of people thought Russell and I should be at each other's throats because we played the same position," Collins said this past summer. "But I think that's one of the reasons we won all the time. We had players that were willing to sacrifice. They didn't care about anything but winning.

"I went to Coach [Bill] Self and said, 'I don't care about starting. I know I'll play.'"

Indeed, Collins found himself on the court in the NCAA title game's crucial moments. Collins is the player who beat Memphis' Derrick Rose down the court before passing to Mario Chalmers for a tying 3-pointer that forced overtime, where Kansas eventually won 75-68.

Collins said the situation he experienced that season -- he was a sophomore at the time -- helped him mature and blossom into a better leader the next two seasons.

Even though he's in the midst of the same scenario, Waiters already can relate. In some ways, Waiters sounds as though he's been humbled. He said his attitude and focus have completely changed as a result of coming off the bench.

"It's a process I'm glad I went through," Waiters said. "I went from a boy to a man in a year just by learning how to buy into the team and things like that. If you can look back at the game and say, 'I didn't start, but I impacted the game and my team won' … you should be happy about that.

"I don't even really care if I start anymore."

Ten of the country's top sixth men

Michael Dixon, Missouri: Averages 12.8 points for the 15-1 Tigers. Also contributes three assists and 1.8 steals.

Reggie Bullock, North Carolina: Three-point specialist averages 8.6 points and 4.4 boards in just 18 minutes per game.

Pierre Jackson, Baylor: The Bears' best point guard and emotional leader scores 11.9 points and dishes out 4.9 assists per game.

Darius Miller, Kentucky: The Wildcats wouldn't be 16-1 without the poise and leadership of Miller, a part-time starter throughout his career who averages 10.1 points.

Miles Plumlee, Duke: Not many teams have a backup forward as good as Plumlee, who averages 6.3 boards in just 17.8 minutes off the bench. Forward Ryan Kelly (12.6 points) also has been used as a reserve.

Otto Porter, Georgetown: Freshman forward does a little bit of everything with 8.1 points, 6.4 boards, 1.8 assists and 1.2 steals.

Mike Rosario, Florida: Former Rutgers scoring machine is averaging only 8.2 points in 16 minutes, but he's a threat to go off at any time.

Will Sheehey, Indiana: Sophomore small forward averages 10.7 points but has missed the Hoosiers' past five games with an injury.

Dion Waiters, Syracuse: Sophomore guard averages 12.5 points, 2.9 assists and a team-high 2.2 steals -- all in 22.3 minutes per game.

B.J. Young, Arkansas: With Marshawn Powell (knee) out for the season, Young is the top scorer on the Razorbacks' active roster with 14.8 points per game.

Jason King covers college basketball for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKingESPN.