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The System Prevails: How Syracuse Made Its Historic AP Poll Leap

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From Lemoyne to Boeheim's 800th, the Syracuse Orange basketball team dominated the early storylines of college basketball.

Don't expect it to stop anytime soon.

Syracuse put together such an impressive display in the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, they jumped to 10th in the AP Polls; it was the third highest leap in AP history.

The Orange, previously unranked, easily eliminated then No. 13 California and No. 6 North Carolina in the tournament's final weekend in Madison Square Garden.

If anything, this team is a reflection of Jim Boeheim's legacy at Syracuse.  Often you hear coaches and the media refer to "the system."  Coach Boeheim's belief in a strong zone defense is one of the more impressive systems in place in college basketball today.

He teaches the defense in practice, he recruits to the defense on the trail, so when game time comes - they execute the defense flawlessly.  One of the most dangerous aspects of the zone is when he has athletic players with length on the wing.  This year, that player is 6-7 Iowa State transfer Wesley Johnson.  His 7-foot wingspan allows him to clog passing lanes that are usually opened up by the zone and his quickness to close on perimeter shooters can intimidate even the sharpest deep-ball assassins.

But it's not just Johnson that makes the Boeheim system work, it requires a team commitment to play lock down defense.  This year, the commitment to "Shut It Down" can be found on the team's t-shirts and heard in the rap song recorded by Assistant Coach Rob Murphy.  Against Cal, the Orange held the Golden Bears to 40% from the field and 30% from behind the arc.  Knowing the need to turn up the pressure against the Top-10 Tar Heels, they played relentless defense for 40 minutes - holding North Carolina to 38% from the field and 25% from long range.

On offense, Rautins and Onuaku bring the experience from playing significant minutes in last season's Big East gauntlet as well as consistent double-digit scoring.  With explosive Sophomore Scoop Jardine making the most of his increased minutes, the pieces are falling into place for Boeheim on both ends of the floor.

And then there is Johnson.  After sitting out the 2008-2009 year, Johnson has exploded on the scene as one of the most dominating players in college basketball.  Averaging 17.3 points and 7.5 rebounds a game, Johnson is exhibiting a certain "easy scoring" that hasn't been seen in Syracuse since a certain headbanded superstar took them to National Championship in 2003.

Defense is no doubt the staple of the 2009-2010 Syracuse Orange, but it will be on the back of a Top 10 NBA Draft pick that they will ride to the top of the Big East.  It may be too early to pencil them in for Indianapolis, but it is certainly not too early to put them in the conversation. 

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