James Southerland is back! Huzzah! That according to talking heads who only watch Syracuse when they're paid to, is enough to vault Syracuse a lot closer to that handful teams people can imagine cutting down the nets in April. But we're die hard Syracuse fans and know better, right?
James Southerland's return to action sounded like Carmelo had just arrived. No, seriously, the standing ovation/cheers he got from the crowd was something...I'll just leave it at that. Southerland's expected slow start was wiped out in the second half when he found his spot at the top of the key and drained a couple of threes. The exclamation point was probably his behind the back pass to set up this monster Brandon Triche dunk.
Now the question is: does Syracuse become a Final Four contender with Southerland back in the lineup?
Let me start by getting the Doug Gottlieb part of the equation out of the way and say no. Syracuse looked A LOT better with Southerland on the floor but he can't fix the most glaring issue on this team: big men. Baye Moussa Keita is a student section punch line at point with his lack of offense and his inability to stop 6'2" guards from throwing floaters over him. Rakeem Christmas is the guy we all want to be the dominating Big East Center this team had with Fab Melo, but it doesn't look like Rak wants to be that physical of a guy.
Against St. John's, both big men decided to play the foul trouble game. It was a miracle neither fouled out (even though Rak rode the bench with four while Keita played most of the second half with his four fouls) and evident that St. John's was trying to take advantage of this. Down-low in the post is an issue for Syracuse, no denying that.
But in all honesty, what team in the country doesn't have issues? Everyone is losing and the inability for a number one team to stay number one consecutive weeks either shows incredible parity or unfortunate mediocrity. The honest answer is that not much separates a good team from a "really good" team this year and no one is great. Not Indiana, not Michigan, not Duke, not Miami, not Syracuse. This year's tournament could be one of the most fun yet most insane ones we've seen in the modern era of one-and-doners. (Made up word, don't judge me.)
The bottom line is this: Syracuse is now in the same breath as the Duke's and Indiana's in terms of "really good teams" this year thanks to Mr. Southerland. No team has the kind of team that can expect to reach the Final Four based off of what they've shown so far. Southerland gives Syracuse a shooter to steal or take over a game that is close due to that whole big man issue.
Is that enough for a Final Four? I'm not going to put money on that. But hell, I'm not putting money on ANYONE reaching the Final Four this year.