SYRACUSE -- The Orangemen of Syracuse were placed among the favorites to win the NCAA Division I basketball championship this year because they came within a Hoosier jump shot of winning it last year and returned three very good players. There were the solid center from Lebanon and Greece (Rony Seikaly) . . . the petulant power forward from Detroit (Derrick Coleman) . . . the clever point guard from Washington (Sherman Douglas) . . .

But the key to making it to Kansas City and another Final Four might be a spindly, freckle-faced shooting guard from central New York state.

"When people play us," said Coach Jim Boeheim, "Rony Seikaly and Derrick Coleman are the first two things they are going to think about. Sherman Douglas is number three. Then comes Matt Roe."

Boeheim added with a sly smile, "If they guard Matt tough, they can't guard the other three tough, too."

Roe is fourth because, of the group, he is the least known. But if he has many more nights like Monday, he might move up.

The 6-foot-5 sophomore scored a career-high 25 points, making six of nine shots from three-point range. Granted it was against the University of Texas-San Antonio that the Orangemen ran their record to 8-2, but Roe's shooting provides a needed component to their attack.

Seikaly, the 6-11, 230-pound senior, is considered one of the best centers in the nation, and, consequently, defenders have surrounded him.

"Any time you have a zone buster of this kind, it is a great asset," said Seikaly. "Hopefully those are the results we're going to have all year. We'll rely on Matt's outside shooting to let the zone break up.

"Against North Carolina {a season-opening 96-93 overtime loss}, they played straight man-to-man and I had a field day in the first half. I had 14 points and could've had 20. In the second half, they doubled down, clogged the middle and invited us to shoot the jump shot and we didn't have it. It was the same with Arizona {the other Syracuse loss}. Every team has to concern themselves with stopping Seikaly inside. They're mainly trying to make me look bad and I have to overcome that."

If Roe continues to be a threat, Seikaly will benefit. With the ball on the wing, a hot Roe has to be defended and that makes the entry pass to the post much easier.

"Definitely," Roe said. "Especially if I can hit my first couple shots. Getting the ball to Rony and Derrick is our bread and butter and we're going to get them the ball any time we can. So any time I can hit the jumper it's going to make it easier to get the ball to them."

Unlike Coleman or starting small forward Steve Thompson, Roe drew no recruiting crush coming out of high school, Fayetteville-Manlius in suburban Syracuse. Besides Syracuse, he considered Providence, Richmond, St. Bonaventure and Virginia Tech. He had gone to Boeheim's summer camp as an elementary-schooler, but playing for Syracuse wasn't his lifelong dream. Then, as a high school senior, he wondered if Syracuse was too big for him. But he was impressed by Boeheim, wanted to be in the Newhouse School of Communications and liked being close to home.

"I told him flat out that he would not play as a freshman and he might not play as a sophomore, but that he was a good shooter and could work his way into our program," Boeheim said. "When I walked out, I said to Bernie {Fine, assistant coach}, 'Well, he isn't coming.' The next day he calls back and said he's coming. Shows how much you know about recruiting."

With Greg Monroe at off guard, Roe's role last year was mop-up. "I played in 13 games and made no contribution," he said.

This past summer, he worked out with former Orangeman Leo Rautins and the result was a better build -- gaining 20 pounds, to 185 -- and stronger desire to be a starter. Sophomore Earl Duncan, who missed last year because of Proposition 48, started the first four games, but he doesn't have the outside jumper that Syracuse needs and Roe has started since.

"He didn't have a chance last year," Boeheim said. "Greg Monroe was going to play 30-35 minutes. A shooter can't play just five minutes. You can't go in for five minutes and make 25-footers. Matt is the answer for kids who aren't ready as freshmen and then transfer. Howard Triche wasn't ready until he was a junior. Matt, fortunately for us, got ready a little earlier than I thought he would."

Roe hit his first few jumpers against North Carolina and Arizona, so Boeheim feels he shouldn't have a problem when it comes to Big East play. What Roe doesn't do yet is create that many of his own shots, but that's one reason Douglas is there.

"We're pretty confident of Matt," said Douglas, the Spingarn graduate. "One of the important things for him is to learn to shoot off the dribble, rather than depending on me to throw it to him. That's especially true against a team like Georgetown, which will get in your face and dare you to put it on the floor."

For his part, Douglas says he is more determined. In directing the Orange to the brink of a national championship, he learned what it takes to win one, and showed that the departure of Dwayne (Pearl) Washington was not monumental.

"I want to prove last year was no fluke and that I'm one of the top point guards in the country," said Douglas, who has started the season going in that direction by leading the team in scoring (17.5 ppg) and assists (7.2 a game).

Coleman is better this year if only because he's a year older. He missed the first of a one-and-one in the last minute of the NCAA championship game that might have sealed the victory. "It's behind me," he said.

His potential is unlimited, if he concentrates on foul shots instead of occasional fisticuffs. The soft inside jumper, ability to block shots and his rebounding helped make him freshman of the year in the Big East in 1986-87. Now, Coleman is wearing a black band on his jersey shoulder in memory of a high school friend killed this summer in Detroit.

Syracuse has operated an upper-echelon program for years, but Seikaly said the Final Four venture put the Orangemen in the "elite." It certainly helped recruiting. A year ago, Boeheim went to the wire with several top prospects -- Marcus Liberty, King Rice, Greg Koubek -- and was shut out. This year, although Alonzo Mourning went to Georgetown, Billy Owens chose Syracuse.

"It's helped in recruiting," Boeheim said of the Final Four trip. "Plus we've lost two games and we haven't dropped as far in the polls, though we did play two teams that have been No. 1 this year. That's a result of last year."