THE GOODS: Josh Pace is the key for Orangemen

Last year it was ‘Melo. This year it's supposed to be Hakim Warrick. Both are great athletes but this year's team, just like last year's team, will go as Josh Pace goes.

Josh Pace has been the most underrated player on Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim's roster since his freshmen year. But he cemented this fact during Syracuse's championship run last season.

In the Orangemen's five losses last season, with the exception of the first game against Memphis, Pace didn't score more than one point in each game. He had zero in 10 minutes at Pittsburgh, one in four minutes at Rutgers, zero in three minutes at Connecticut, and one in 12 minutes against Connecticut in the Big East Tournament.

Perhaps those numbers don't prove anything because there were five games that the Orangemen won where Pace failed to score and did not play significant minutes. Throughout the season pace averaged just 3.5 points, 1.9 assists, and 2.5 rebounds in just 13.9 minutes per game leading up the NCAA Tournament. But what Pace did in the NCAA Tournament proves that Pace has been underrated and underutilized by Boeheim, resulting in his less than stellar numbers.

Once given some playing time, Pace played a key role in several of SU's NCAA tournament victories, scoring a personal-best 14 points against Auburn on a career-high 7-of-13 shooting from the field. He then came up big when he recorded 12 points in SU's NCAA semifinal win against Texas and establishing career marks in rebounds with eight against Oklahoma State and against Kansas in the national title game. In those same two games he grabbed a season-high three steals.

"It was just a situation where you gotta do whatever coach asks you to do," Pace said.

Over the six games of the tournament, Pace averaged 8.0 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.2 steals, and he connected on 64 percent (23-of-36) of his shots from the floor.

Now this season, in SU's two exhibition games, Pace has begun to show why he makes up one-third of what assistant coach Mike Hopkins calls the best backcourt in the country.

Pace is versatile, able to play the point, the off guard or even small forward. At 6-foot-5 he has no problem slashing and getting into the lane to score over opposing centers. In the two exhibition games he averaged 13.5 points, 8.5 boards, three assists, two steals, and one block in 30 minutes per game. He showed off his post moves and slashing ability, not to mention his ability to guard opposition at every position. His jump shot still has that hitch and needs work, but he has shown a commitment to improving.

In high school Pace averaged 26.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3 steals per game his senior season. Cut the 26 down to about 17 and those are numbers Pace is more than capable of putting up this season, and so far, he is right on par.

Statistics, however, are only a small part of the story. Pace does all of the little things that other guys don't. He is always on the floor diving for loose balls. He sees the court and has a pass first mentality. His teammates love playing with him and he loves playing with them.

"Josh is one of our leaders and he's the type of guy to make everyone around him better," Hopkins said. "He's one of those guys that doesn't get the glory but you need him to win."

This season, if the Orangemen have any hope of repeating their success from last season, Pace is going to determine how good they are. Warrick is the best athlete on the team, Gerry McNamara is the best shooter, and Billy is the best ball handler. But Pace offers a little bit of what every guy on the team offers plus the intangibles that make him invaluable.

"I'm just happy to come back, to have a championship, and to defend it," Pace said. "You can believe we're going to play hard every game."

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