Boy, did Syracuse’s zone look good tonight against Michigan State. Syracuse forced 18 turnovers and held Michigan State to 38 percent shooting from the field. There is a lot to be said about SU’s lack of offensive firepower this year, but no one will question Syracuse’s ability to lock other teams down. The unsung hero of the game may have been Baye Moussa Keita, who provided 27 quality minutes at the center position. With Fab Melo struggling again tonight (13 minutes, four fouls and zero points), Keita was a force inside, providing three blocks and three rebounds. The initial scouting report on Keita was that he was a project (offensively, he definitely is), but compared to Melo, he looks a lot more polished.
It was clear early on that Michigan State wanted to feature Draymond Green in the high post around the soft spot of the Syracuse zone – the free throw line. In the first possession, Green caught the ball at the foul line and found a wide open Durrell Summers who drained a 3-pointer. On its next possession, Green was again featured in the high post, and, this time, drained a jumper to give Michigan State an early 5-1 lead. What happened after that? Syracuse took away the entry pass to Green in the high post, and Green would finish with six points on 1-for-6 shooting.
It doesn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it anyway — Rick Jackson is by far the team’s MVP so far. Jackson completely dominated the paint to the tune of 17 points and 16 rebounds — six coming on the offensive glass. Syracuse tried to feature Jackson down low a little more, and Jackson ended up misfiring on a lot of his baby hooks, but still found a way to be productive offensively on put-backs and dunks.
Scoop Jardine drew the ire of coach Jim Boeheim early after missing a couple of defensive assignments (see the previously mentioned Summers’ 3-pointer). Jardine rebounded with 19 points, and, more importantly, only took nine shots to get there. Jardine’s been the subject of a lot of criticism recently, but played within the bounds of his own game tonight. Meanwhile, his backcourt mate Brandon Triche continues to struggle. Triche scored nine points, but went 1-for-7 from the field. Triche has no confidence in his long range shot, and is struggling to finish on his drives.
Boeheim said that Kris Joseph looked like he was pressing too much in the N.C. State game. Joseph played better tonight (14 points), but was still 3-for-10 from the field and disappeared in the second half. Joseph was more aggressive driving the ball to the basket, but he’s still not finding the range on his 3-point shots. He went 0-for-4 from downtown in the N.C. State game, and went 0-for-2 tonight.
So is Syracuse that good, or is Michigan State just overrated? The Spartans don’t have a signature victory, losing to every good non-conference team they’ve played (Connecticut, Syracuse, Duke). It’s clear that Kalin Lucas isn’t all the way back after the problems with his Achilles. He looked lost at times, finishing with almost as many turnovers (6) as points (8). If Michigan State is going to make another deep run in the NCAA Tournament, Lucus needs to get better — and soon.