BUFFALO – Time sharing might work out fine at a ski resort or on the beach. But on the basketball court? Not so much.
When two guys split time at the same position, it often produces complaints over playing time and division in the locker room. Rarely does it result in trips to the Sweet 16.
Consider Syracuse an exception to the rule.
The team-first approach of Syracuse point guards Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine has allowed the Orange to turn a potential problem into an ideal solution. Triche and Jardine have run the offense well enough to earn Syracuse (30-4) a West Region semifinal date Thursday with Butler (30-4) in Salt Lake City.
"We both have the same mindset – just winning," Triche said. "If I'm having a good game or if he's having a good game, we know it's all about winning. It's not about us getting minutes."
Perhaps it was fitting that Syracuse rotated two point guards this season because Jonny Flynn basically did the work of two men while leading Syracuse to the Sweet 16 last season. Flynn set a school record for minutes played while leading Syracuse in points (17.4) and assists (6.7). Flynn turned pro early, and the Minnesota Timberwolves selected him with the sixth pick in the NBA draft.
With Flynn gone, Syracuse coaches handed the point-guard responsibilities to two guys who didn't play a minute last season. Jardine, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, redshirted last season after making 10 starts in the 2007-08 season. Triche, a 6-4 freshman, was the No. 142 prospect in the 2009 recruiting class according to Rivals.com.
The preseason forecasts that suggested Syracuse couldn't return to the Sweet 16 typically cited Flynn's absence as the reason for their doubts.
"Jonny Flynn was one of the greatest point guards to play at Syracuse," Jardine said. "Those were big shoes to fill. I wouldn't even try to fill them. I never paid it any mind."
It isn't quite a fair comparison since Jardine and Triche occasionally are on the floor at the same time, but their combined statistics approach Flynn's totals from last season. Is either as good as Flynn? Of course not. But they already have helped the Orange get as far as Flynn ever led them.
"They've given us everything we hoped for in the beginning of the year," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "That was the one question mark I had looking at this year. I knew we would be fine with the front line. I knew Andy [Rautins] would make the transition back into the ‘2' spot without a problem. The one question that I had was how are Scoop and Brandon going to play."
Jardine and Triche haven't put up huge statistics, but they've done a nice job of running the offense and getting the ball to Wes Johnson and Rautins on the perimeter and to Arinze Onuaku, Rick Jackson and Kris Joseph inside.
"Unbelievable," Rautins said of the way Triche and Jardine have handled their roles. "They've done a great job game in and game out. It's a two point-guard system and we've been extremely happy with it. They're both more than capable of running an offense."
Jardine has played 22.1 minutes per game; Triche is averaging 21.4 minutes. Triche has started all 34 games and Jardine comes off the bench.
The two provide a nice contrast in styles and personalities.
Triche went to high school in Dewitt, N.Y., right outside of Syracuse. He is part of Syracuse basketball royalty as the nephew of former Orange forward Howard Triche (1983-87) and the cousin of former Syracuse guard Jason Hart (1996-2000). Jardine is the grandson of Isaiah Wilson, who played guard for the Detroit Pistons in the early 1970s. Jardine honed his game on the Philadelphia playgrounds, where he learned a variety of moves such as the nifty crossover he delivered in a first-round tournament victory over Vermont. Triche provides size, while Jardine offers flair.
"They both bring a different type of flavor to the game," Joseph said.
|Thriving without Flynn|
|A look at the production of Syracuse's point guards compared to that of Jonny Flynn last season.|
The system is particularly effective right now because Jardine and Triche are playing well at the same time. That hasn't always been the case.
Triche got off to a fast start, but he struggled late in the regular season and headed into the NCAA tournament having scored in double figures just once in 14 games.
"He hit a little bump in the road during the conference [schedule], which freshmen do quite often," Boeheim said. "And he started to think about things a little bit too much instead of just playing, which is not unusual for a freshman – particularly not unusual when the guy behind you really plays well."
Triche broke out of his slump in a big way over the weekend. He averaged 11.5 points and was a combined 5-for-10 from 3-point range in Syracuse's first two tournament games. Jardine also is averaging 11.5 points per game in the tournament, and the players' statistics over the course of the season also are quite similar. Jardine is averaging 8.9 points, 2.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists; Triche is at 8.3 points, 1.8 rebounds and 2.9 assists.
Their steady, albeit unspectacular, performance has silenced the skeptics who assumed Syracuse couldn't thrive without Flynn running the show. But their collective performance hasn't surprised teammates.
"They were playing together in the summertime in open scrimmages," Joseph said. "They both played on each other's team and against each other in scrimmages. When practice started and they were on the same team, you could tell that they were clicking."
Jardine scoffs at the notion that a part-time role might prevent him from getting into the rhythm of a game.
"When guys make that excuse, it's just an excuse," Jardine said. "You've got to find some mental approach to know what you have to do to come out and make a stamp on the game. It's definitely a mental state more than anything. You have to be ready as soon as you enter a game. That's what I pride myself on doing."
And that's exactly what Jardine and Triche have done.