PITTSBURGH -- With a brilliant 50-point second-half showcase Saturday afternoon that reminded the nation exactly why they were a No. 1 seed and arguably the nation's best team all season, the Syracuse Orange also created some fair questions.
With bench depth that would start for most programs, was the pre-tournament loss of center Fab Melo overstated? Syracuse actually was decent defensively in the three-game sample during Melo's first bout with ineligibility; it was offensively the Orange struggled. Combine that with the way 'Cuse bogged down in halfcourt down the stretch of the season, and that was a concern that they answered. If Vanderbilt's up next, the Melo question will linger, but for now, 'Cuse seems OK.
"Fab, he's a big part of our team," said forward C.J. Fair after the 75-59 win over Kansas State, "but we have other parts of our team that can make up for his absence, and [today] we showed it."
Do you have to zone them? The Scoop Jardine-fueled Orange attack looked scintillating in the 14-21 field goal tour de force that shredded K-State after the break, getting jumpstarted after Wildcat center Jordan Henriquez went to the bench with three fouls early in the second stanza. In the postgame presser, Jardine noted that it was the first man defense Syracuse had seen in awhile, and their "eyes lit up." He went the full final 20, and his 14 points and five assists in that span helped put K-State to the sword.
The Orange also created a Fair question, as in, "Should C.J. Fair remain as a starter?" after his latest low-impact showing. Fair has only started seven games this season and hasn't looked good at all in postseason play, starting with the Big East tournament.
"It's just tough getting that first bucket," Fair said. "I'm just a little out of sync right now."
Fair played just four minutes in the second half, getting to the line twice out of the break and then basically becoming a spectator while James Southerland and Rakeem Christmas combined for 21 points and 12 rebounds in 35 minutes between the two. That combo also helped negate the Wildcats on the boards during the crucial phase where the Orange seized control.
After today's game, Jim Boeheim said Thursday would be start number eight for Fair, although not with complete conviction.
"Same way we are right now. Same exact way. No change," Boeheim said when asked how he would handle the frontcourt rotation heading into the Sweet 16.
He couldn't stop there, though. After a follow-up question asked if Fair would play Thursday until he once again proved otherwise, Boeheim gave a more telling answer, in multiple thoughts.
"He will start. He hasn't proved too much lately, but he'll start," Boeheim said. "I've got a lot of confidence in him."
"I know he'll get going ..."
"Soon, I hope."
If he doesn't, it's clear Boeheim has other options, a nice luxury at this stage of the season when fatigue and injury are compromising rosters all around the bracket if ineligibility isn't. K-State found that out the hard way Saturday, with leading rebounder Jamar Samuels a surprise late exclusion and then leading scorer Rodney McGruder injuring himself early in the first half, leaving himself far less a contributor than he was in the win over Southern Miss. Then again, the Orange's rangy zone had something to do with that, too.
The zone also has something to do with the question that continues to dog the Orange: Will their horrible defensive rebounding ultimately be their downfall? This game portended to be ugly with K-State's prowess on the offensive glass, and it was. The Wildcats hauled down 25 offensive rebounds, to just 23 defensive boards for the Orange, but Syracuse stabilized enough in that area for a chunk of the second half to allow the rest of their advantages overwhelm a foe that did not possess enough weapons to punish them for their flaw.
It has been a season of questions for Syracuse on and off the court, and the bottom line answer is the Orange are 33-2. That's all that matters at this point. Embattled and hardened, booed at a neutral court and thriving, Syracuse marches on. Toward Boston, where more questions will be asked, and where the Orange believe more answers in the form of wins await.