Sad Tom Izzo did not enjoy his night in the Garden
Well, well, well. It seems the the Syracuse Orange men's basketball team was sleep walking through their first eight games of the season because in game number 9 -- against the 7th ranked Michigan State Spartans, a different Syracuse squad showed up. And that squad was damn good. As in, a 72-58 win over the number 7 team in the country good.
Behind a smothering defense and an absolutely dominant performance from Rick Jackson in the middle, Syracuse took control early and was in command the whole game against a team many expect to make the Final Four in March.
As you can see from Tom Izzo's expression above, it was a rough night for the Spartans, but it was rough because Syracuse MADE IT ROUGH for them. The defensive effort was outstanding. In the first half I tweeted that the Orange were moving around on defense like a coke-head who had just chugged 5 four lokos -- and that might have been downplaying how hard they worked. Simply put, the zone was more active than it had been at any time this year.
On the offensive end of the floor, shot selection was better than it has been in the past. The team worked hard at getting the ball into the paint and Rick Jackson was just relentless. He's attacking the glass like a Zombie attacks a victim's brain, and no one has a bullet to stop him. Sorry for that reference, I've been hooked on the Walking Dead.
Onto the observations:
* Rick Jackson, Rick Jackson, Rick Mother F*%king Jackson. I used the word relentless above and I'll use it again. He's simply out-working people right now. Rebounding is all about effort and Rick's been giving this team every ounce of effort all year. 17 points and 16 rebounds is quickly becoming a routine day at the office for Rick.
* The 2-3 zone has actually been pretty solid all season, especially at the end of games. Tonight it was outstanding. After a couple of quick lapses and one Boeheim eruption later, SU kicked up the effort on D. The team rotated well, found shooters and rebounded the ball. Even with offensive issues, if this team can play defense like that all year, they will be in every game they play.
* They held Michigan State - a team shooting 43% from behind the arc this season, to under 30% from three point range (7-24).
* I loved Baye Moussa Keita's effort tonight. His stat line wasn't impressive but the effort and presence was. He had a couple of OUTSTANDING (please say that in your Ron Jaworski voice) blocks and of course the pass to Ricky for a dunk late in the second half demonstrated a court awareness of a 5th year senior. He's got a shot to be better than Fab Melo when it's all said and done.
* Kris Joseph did a nice job of both getting to the free throw line and then actually making his free throws. If SU can ever find someone to make a few perimeter shots, his scoring numbers will go up. Right now everyone is playing him to drive, so he's got nowhere to take the ball.
* Scoop Jardine had 19 points and infinitely better shot selection tonight. You have to give the guy credit, when he gets the ball to the rim, he's a great finisher. I can't remember the last time he missed a lay up - and everyone misses lay ups.
* SU only took 10 three pointers - making two. Give the guys credit for not forcing shots they haven't been making all year.
* C.J Fair had another highlight reel dunk. He brings some great energy off the bench. I'm giddy at his potential. The same can be said for Dion Waiters.
* Not to be negative, but this team has to get more out of Brandon Triche. Right now he's a shooting guard that can't shoot. He's made 5 three pointers all year - and has now gone 6 games without a made three point shot. That's awful.
* On that point, Syracuse has to find a couple of guys who can make some perimeter shots. Given how the rotation settled, it needs to be one of the top 8. Either Triche or Kris Joseph need to start shooting it better, or they need to run Dion Waiters off screens like they did Andy Rautins and turn him into a shooter this year.
All in all, it was an excellent effort and a great win for a Syracuse team that had all of nervous. There will be games this team gets beat because they can't make a shot, but they proved tonight that their defense is good enough to beat any team in the land on a given night.
Now let's enjoy some highlights: