3-point shot could spoil Syracuse's run

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Syracuse had just better pray it doesn't draw Utah State in the first round.

The vaunted Orange 2-3 zone is sensational in preventing teams from getting penetration and easy shots around the bucket.

However, Jim Boeheim's team is susceptible to the long-range shot.

All you had to do was watch the first 20 minutes of No. 4 Syracuse's 99-85 win Tuesday night as the Friars drilled trifecta after trifecta en route to a 10-for-19 shooting display that resulted in a five-point lead at the break.

Fortunately, it was against Providence.

Because in the end, it didn't take more than a handful of minutes for Syracuse to catch and then pull away from a Friars team that is 12-15 overall and has won just four Big East games.

There was a 14-0 run and a 12-0 run in the second half with one Providence bucket sandwiched in between.

Game over.

Rick Jackson was unstoppable. In fact, the big man finished with a career-high 28 points, Andy Rautins sank all five of his 3-point attempts in the second half and the Friars went ice cold from long range.

But that may not happen if Syracuse draws someone such as, say, a Utah State team that leads the nation in 3-point percentage.

"For sure," Syracuse senior guard Andy Rautins said of not wanting to play a team such as Stew Morrill's Aggies in the Big Dance. "No question. Teams that can make 3-pointers are especially dangerous against us."

"You're right," Orange star Wesley Johnson answered when posed the identical question.

Utah State may not even make the tournament, but BYU, top-ranked Kansas and potentially Marquette and Cornell will be in the field.

They all shoot the you-know-what out of the ball from long distance.

Syracuse is still a potent team and has been the most pleasant surprise of the college basketball season without question.

Boeheim lost lottery pick Jonny Flynn and two other starters, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris, and the team is clearly a new and improved model over its predecessor.

They are No. 4 in the nation, have a 26-2 record and will host Villanova on Saturday night with the potential to take control of the Big East regular-season crown.

This is a terrific coaching job by Boeheim.

But I'm still not sold the Orange are on the level of Kansas or Kentucky.

I'm not sold that they are a national title team.

Syracuse has most of the pieces: A willing, yet unselfish star in Johnson, an unconscious knock-down shooter and leader in Rautins, size with Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson, multiple point guards in Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine and a talented, emerging star in reserve forward Kris Joseph.

Boeheim goes primarily with a seven-man rotation and all seven players have put up 20-plus points at one point this season, which makes them difficult to defend.

The identical lineup has taken the court in all but one game the entire season, which gives them consistency and few questions about their individual roles.

"The chemistry is great," Jardine said. "This is a great team ."

Jardine's acceptance of his role coming off the bench and replacing a freshman, Triche, has been crucial.

"At the beginning, it was hard," Jardine admitted. "Everyone wants to start, but after New York (in the 2K Sports Classic), I understood my role. I'm the backup point guard, but I know this team wouldn't be where it is without me."

Both Triche and Jardine understand they can't replace Flynn, who was drafted sixth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves last June.

But the two-headed monster hasn't missed a beat production-wise.

Flynn averaged 17.4 points, 6.7 assists and 2.7 rebounds last season.

Triche and Jardine combine to average 16.7 points, 7.8 assists and 3.7 assists with a similar assist-to-turnover rate as Flynn.

"We're not trying to replace Jonny," Jardine said. "We're just trying to do what we can to help this team win."

"I think we're the key to the team," admitted Triche.

Well, that and making sure they don't run into a buzz-saw like Utah State sometime next month.