It would be easy to see Syracuse's 72-58 thrashing of Michigan State and assume that the 2010-11 Orange are merely an extension of last year's number one seed. Indeed, that team may have been an Arinze Onuaku injury away from a national title.
But the differences between that team and this one are profound.
Let's start with the offense. Syracuse was so dangerous last year because of an incredibly efficient attack. The Orange shot better than 51 percent overall from the field, and almost 40 percent as a team from three-point range. This year's team simply doesn't have that kind of offensive execution yet- just 43 percent from the field overall, and 29 percent from long range.
Rick Jackson's ridiculous rebounding has bridged the gap- 12.4 per game- but it is fair to wonder what Syracuse will do anytime Jackson hits foul trouble. Neither Fab Melo nor Baye Moussa Keita look ready for meaningful Big East minutes.
After the game, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim told reporters that while his team played as well defensively as possible, the offense still has a long way to go. But neither he nor fans should expect the same kind of results, with the most efficient offensive contributors for Syracuse from last year- Onuaku, Wesley Johnson, and Andy Rautins- are no longer in uniform.
The young talent on display- notably Dion Waiters and C.J. Fair- got to the basket regularly against Michigan State, and high-percentage shots can help bridge the efficiency gap. But Syracuse will need the improvement in rebounding by Jackson to make up for a lot of missed baskets, in all likelihood, to get Syracuse to last season's levels. Remember- that defense was already pretty air-tight.