SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Jim Boeheim looks and sounds about as weary as a person can be with all that's been going on around his Syracuse program. But at least the Hall of Fame coach has something to sleep on this weekend.
His Orange are poised to be No. 1 come Monday.
"It's nice. These kids have worked hard," Boeheim said after No. 3 Syracuse cruised past George Washington, 85-50, on Saturday night. "Whatever happens, happens. We just have to be ready to play next week."
In the midst of a federal investigation, unbeaten and unbowed Syracuse is a cinch to move to the top spot after a good day where things just seemed to fall into place for the Orange (10-0). After all, top-ranked Kentucky lost to Indiana, 73-72, and No. 2 Ohio State lost to No. 13 Kansas, 78-67.
"We know we'll have a bull's-eye on our back. It's going to be tough," fifth-year senior guard Scoop Jardine said as he anticipated the Orange's first true road game of the season at North Carolina State Dec. 17. "The biggest thing about us is getting better.
"We aren't even looking at being No. 1."
Dion Waiters had 19 points and six steals, both career highs, to lead Syracuse, while Kris Joseph had nine points and eight rebounds. Jardine, Brandon Triche, Fab Melo, and C.J. Fair each scored eight, and freshman guard Michael Carter-Williams had five points, one block, and a season-high eight assists with no turnovers in 18 minutes.
It was the seventh time this season that Waiters reached double figures in his key role coming off the bench.
"Being able to go out there and play aggressive, play physically, that's what I just try to do," said Waiters, third on the team in scoring at 11.9 per game and tops with 25 steals. "It'd be great (to be No. 1), but now we know the task will be harder.
"A lot of teams are going to come after us even harder."
David Pellom had 12 points and Lasan Kromah and Dwayne Smith each had 10 to lead George Washington (4-5), which has lost four in a row.
It was the fourth game for Syracuse since associate head coach Bernie Fine was fired after allegations by three men that he sexually molested them as minors. Two were former Orange ballboys. Fine has maintained his innocence and no charges have been filed. The investigation is expected to last several more weeks.
"If we lose a game, it's not going to be because they're distracted," Boeheim said after Fine was fired Nov. 27. "They have to be focused."
So far, the Orange have been just that.
Having displayed great anticipation on defense, Syracuse entered the game ranked first in the nation in steals, averaging 12.5 a game, and second in turnover margin at plus-8.2, trailing only Ohio State. The Colonials found out why at the outset as they struggled to find any openings. Syracuse forced 18 turnovers that led to 34 points and held George Washington to 16.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
"The turnovers would lead to dunks at the other end. It's hard to stay in the game with them if you make 18 turnovers and you're 3 for 18 on 3s," George Washington coach Mike Lonergan said. "We really wanted to get touches around the foul line. That's easier said than done. We really didn't have a lot of guys play well. I knew we were going to have to play a great game (to have a chance), and they took it to us.
"Everybody they brought in hurt us."
George Washington hit just 1 of its first 16 shots — a runner by Bryan Bynes 3 minutes into the game. By the time Pellom converted a layup 3 minutes later, Syracuse was up 13-4, led by six points from Jardine.
"It's very tough," Colonials guard Tony Taylor said. "Syracuse does a great job in that 2-3 (zone), forces you to play outside your comfort zone. They did a really good job forcing us into turnovers.
"We didn't take care of the ball."
George Washington, shooting 41.5 percent from beyond the arc this season, was 2 of 9 in the first half as the Orange challenged every shooter, registering five blocks and six steals. Having to peer over the likes of the 7-foot Melo, Nemanja Mikic missed his first five shots and finished with six points on 2 of 11 shooting.
Taylor, who was shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc, missed all four shots he took from long range and finished with five points. He was averaging 14.
Trailing 37-21 after Melo followed his own miss with 5 minutes to go in the first half, the frustration showed when Pellom threw a pass from under the basket right to Jardine near the foul line, and he scored on a breakaway layup.
When the Colonials pressed, Fair scored on a layup, and when the Orange returned the favor by pressing on the next possession, Fair stole the ball and fed Waiters for a resounding one-handed dunk.
Waiters made the free throw to complete a three-point play for a 26-12 lead midway through the half, and Carter-Williams' lob to Waiters in the final minute sent the Orange into the locker room with a commanding 45-25 lead.
When Syracuse built the lead to 31 late in the second half, the student section began chanting "We're No. 1."