“We made some shots for the first time in a while,” Boeheim said. “The game becomes pretty simple when you make shots. Of course, the key was our defense.”
The key for Syracuse is always its defense, the remarkably elastic 2-3 zone it has played since 1996 — when Boeheim took a team picked to do very little in the preseason all the way to the national championship game. Even without Melo in the middle, the Orange are still a collection of long arms and legs inside and still have nine players who can come in and play effectively.
Boeheim realized early this season that this was probably the deepest team he has ever coached. He even changed his practice routine, working his first five and his second five alternatively against his third five — a group that includes a redshirt and four walk-ons. “That third group is in really good shape,” he said, almost smiling for a moment. “I’ve never done it that way before but change is good — especially when you’re getting older.”
There’s been a lot of talk about whether Boeheim will just walk away after this season, especially if his team wins the championship or reaches the Final Four. His close friend Krzyzewski — who is no doubt a lot unhappier than Boeheim, at least this weekend — doesn’t think there is any way that will happen.
“They’ll have to drag Jim off the sideline,” he said recently. “He’s not going anywhere. He loves basketball and he loves coaching.
Boeheim disagrees with even with that. “I have never enjoyed coaching,” he said. “I hope someday if I need an operation, when that doctor walks into the operating room he’s not there to enjoy himself.”
What about after the operation is a success?
For a moment he did actually smile. “If you have success, then you’re satisfied,” he said. “That’s completely different.” He paused for a moment. “I guess if you win a lot and you get a lot of satisfaction from the wins then maybe — maybe — you can enjoy it just a little.”
He was laughing by now, something he hasn’t done much the last few months. The bus was waiting. He walked down the hall and out the door. Another victory was in his rear-view mirror.
No doubt there are plenty of battles still ahead.
For John Feinstein’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/feinstein. For more by the author, visit his blog at www.feinsteinonthebrink.com.