Orange hope to find consistency at Jimmy V Classic

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim isn't sure which teams are elite this season, but he knows the Orange have work to do to reach that status, Andy Katz writes.

Updated: December 5, 2006, 12:41 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Jim Boeheim has a vote in the coaches poll and he has absolutely no idea who is really good this season.

And that includes his Syracuse Orange.

 Jim Boeheim
Jim Boeheim doesn't know how good his team is yet.
That's why Tuesday night's Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden with Syracuse playing Oklahoma State (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET) and Arizona playing Louisville (ESPN, 9:30 p.m. ET) will be yet another barometer to see just who is elite this season.

"It's beyond me; I can't figure it all out," Boeheim said. "Kansas looked good and then loses to DePaul and Oral Roberts. I guess it's just young players. North Dakota State [won at Marquette]? I don't know."

That's why he's having a hard time figuring out where to put the Orange, too.

Syracuse is coming off a loss to Wichita State at the Carrier Dome. There's no shame in losing to the Shockers this season. Wichita State could end up being a team playing well into March after winning at George Mason, LSU and Syracuse. But what's more troubling is that Syracuse was down 19 in the game and the deficit could have been much larger if not for a late Orange run that ended with a three-point loss.

That came on the heels of Syracuse's nipping Holy Cross by eight at home and needing a comeback to get past Canisius in Buffalo.

"I don't know if we're top-20 or 60 to 70," Boeheim said. "We could be in the top 20 but I don't know.

"I can't figure it out. Vermont looked good [in beating Boston College on the road] and now they're getting beat up. UTEP didn't look so good here and then just crushed New Mexico, which was undefeated. A lot of it has to do with home court and some teams just play so much better at home than on the road."

Still, Boeheim didn't hesitate to vote Wichita State No. 10 and Butler No. 11 on his weekly ballot. "I'm not sure who the other good teams are when it comes right down to it," Boeheim said.

Paul Harris
Scott Schild/WireImage.com Freshman Paul Harris should get more PT in the coming months.
Wichita State coach Mark Turgeon is certain, though, that the Orange can be one of those teams, regardless of what occurs against Oklahoma State at the Garden. "They're extremely talented," Turgeon said. "Their big guys will defend and rebound and can get second-chance points. They showed us they had fight in them when they made the comeback. They are the best team we've played so far."

For Syracuse to be one of these elite teams, the Orange must get quality games out of Demetris Nichols and Eric Devendorf. Nichols was 2-of-14 for six points against WSU after scoring 20-plus in the previous three games. Devendorf had six points in the same game and was 3-of-13 for nine in the closer-than-anyone-thought game against Holy Cross.

Nichols (15.3 ppg) and Devendorf (13.9 ppg) are Syracuse's top two scorers, but the one player who could end up raising the ceiling on this team is freshman Paul Harris. While Turgeon's comments about the Orange's post men, Terrence Roberts (8.6 ppg, 9.3 rpg) and Darryl Watkins (7.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg), are valid, he reserved most of his praise for Harris.

"He's the real deal and I was so impressed with his maturity and leadership skills," Turgeon said. "He made one play where he had a dunk on the break that was phenomenal. Eventually, his minutes will increase."

For now, Harris comes off the bench and averages 27.3 minutes, 12.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. He's playing behind the aforementioned wings and point Josh Wright (10.3 ppg, 5 apg) but that may not last too much longer.

"[Paul] is still trying out how to do this," Boeheim said of playing Division I. "He didn't score in the first half [against WSU] and then had 14 points in the second half. He has been really good down the stretch for us."

Boeheim said he's going to try to integrate freshman Mike Jones more against the Cowboys, whom Boeheim thinks are pretty good.

The Oklahoma State game marks the only time this month the Orange will leave Syracuse. They'll host Colgate, Baylor, Drexel, Hofstra and St. Bonaventure; the middle three teams have legitimate chances to reach the postseason.

"We played very good against Penn and against Holy Cross, but I don't have a clue," Boeheim said about just how well the Orange will do this season. "I still think at the end of the year, Ohio State, North Carolina and Florida will figure it out."

But, who knows, maybe Syracuse, and certainly Arizona, will show Tuesday night that they can look deserving of a place in that group, too.

It's still early enough in the season that teams are finding their identities and can get beaten by teams with lesser talent but more experience. That's not the case Tuesday, since Oklahoma State is off to an undefeated start with an impressive win over Missouri State in South Padre Island, Texas. So, if nothing else, Syracuse will get a legitimate gauge about how resourceful it is, whether or not it can handle a team on a neutral court, and if its necessary scorers -- Nichols and Devendorf -- can produce under pressure.

"We've just got to be more consistent," Boeheim said. "We're still getting used to playing without Gerry [McNamara]. Our defense is OK but we need to be more consistent offensively. We're making some bad mistakes and Oklahoma State is really good … we've got to get better. There's still time."

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com