SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Jim Boeheim has been down this road too many times to let it affect his team. No big deal that his Syracuse Orange are undefeated 18 games into the season and every opponent is looking to be the first to knock them off.
“Teams always get ready for us anyway,” Boeheim said. “They’re not going to not be ready. We usually come in with a good record, a good team. But I think at the end of the day, when the game starts, after a couple of minutes, the best team wins.”
Top-ranked Syracuse (5-0 Big East) puts its unblemished record on the line Saturday night against Providence (12-6, 1-4) in the Carrier Dome. A win will match the school record for consecutive wins at the start of a season, set by the 1999-2000 squad led by Etan Thomas.
The Orange defeated the Friars 87-73 on the road 10 days ago, but Providence is coming off its first conference win under first-year coach Ed Cooley, a stunning 90-59 win over No. 14 Louisville Tuesday.
“Providence is very confident right now,” Syracuse guard Scoop Jardine said before practice on Thursday. “We beat them down at their home. We just have to play Syracuse basketball and we should come out with a victory.
“Don’t forget, we were 18-0 last year. We just try to take it one game at a time and focus on our task at hand and forget the rest.”
In its five conference games, the Syracuse bench is averaging 38.4 points, and has outscored the opposition’s reserves, 192-77, with Wednesday night’s 47 points in a 79-66 win at Villanova the top performance.
“We’ve been able to play eight, nine guys for the most part all year,” Boeheim said. “We have different guys that come in and do different things.”
In the first game against the Friars, the Syracuse bench outscored the Providence bench, 35-1, and yet Providence was within 70-64 with 5:33 left before Dion Waiters hit a scoop shot and a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 11.
“Providence is good. They play hard,” Orange senior forward Kris Joseph said. “They’re well coached. They don’t have as much talent as they’ve had in the past, but they try to make up for that by playing tough for 40 minutes.”
Syracuse has had several impressive spurts that have helped overcome some sporadic play — a 23-0 run at North Carolina State, 19-0 tears against Tulane and Marquette, and a 20-2 spurt against Villanova.
Boeheim has freely rotated 10 players in and out of the lineup depending on what he sees on the court, and the team has rarely skipped a beat.
“They’ve got guys that didn’t even get in the game that are pretty good basketball players,” Cooley said. “There are not too many weaknesses. You’ve got to try to capitalize on things when you’re playing against a team like Syracuse.
“The talent level on their team is really, really impressive. They can beat you in so many ways. That’s probably one of the most impressive things about Syracuse right now — their depth and the multiple players in different positions that can beat you. And they’re having fun playing together. You can see the way they play. They look like they have really good team chemistry.”
Last year, Syracuse lost its 19th game, and that started a four-game losing streak. The team that set the school record 12 years ago had the streak snapped at home by Seton Hall. And yet despite hitting just 2-of-13 3-pointers, shooting 37.3 percent, and getting only seven points combined from starters Damone Brown, Ryan Blackwell and Tony Bland, Syracuse hung in until the end of a 69-67 setback.
This Syracuse team is much different with all its interchangeable parts, and Boeheim realized its potential early. Before the season he broke character, telling the players they had the talent to win the national championship.
“Coach is a mastermind knowing what type of talent that we have, what type of team we’ll have before the year even starts,” said Jardine, a fifth-year senior. “When he said it to me as a leader, I believed in it from day one. That’s the reason I came back to school because I knew we had a national championship-caliber team. We can do something special. We just have to keep believing in ourselves, keep believing what coach is teaching us.”
So far, it’s working in spite of all that’s gone on away from the court, with the firing of former associate head coach Bernie Fine amid sexual abuse allegations.
“We could see it. It was just a matter of us believing in it,” said Joseph, the team’s leading scorer at 13.8 points. “I think, as the season has gone on, and we see how much talent we have, and how hard we’re working, we could see that dream becoming a reality.”
Notes: There’s been a bigger demand for tickets to Syracuse home games lately. The Carrier Dome box office announced Thursday that it was extending hours for this weekend. Pittsburgh visits on Monday night.