This is a couple of days old, but I just saw it this morning.
This season, Insider will feature the writing of six current NCAA basketball players, contributing their thoughts on issues facing their conferences. In this installment, Syracuse's Scoop Jardine explains why teammate Rick Jackson has gotten so much better, and the secret to Kemba Walker's success.
We've gotten some good wins but our best win so far was against William & Mary. It was the best win for us because we could've easily lost that game. It was a game that brought us together and showed that we can play with our backs up against the ropes. It taught us how to win down the stretch. They put four shooters out there on the perimeter and everybody was making 3s against our zone. We were losing by five with like two minutes to play and we made three defensive stops, got layups and got back in the game. We held them the last three or four minutes to no buckets, nothing. Our defense really came alive. The key to it was us saying that we weren't losing to them. We all had to make a play or two to get back in the game. It brought us together. And it also let us know that we can't play around with teams. As much as we're a decent team, we also can be beaten. We knew that right away and it made us grow up. It got us ready for teams like Georgia Tech and Michigan State. Coach let us know afterwards that we can be beaten if we don't play the right way. It woke us up. We have to be ready to take care of business, be ready to win.
Rick Jackson is finally coming into his own. He's a senior, he's a leader. He worked hard this summer and it's showing. Every year he's been in college Rick's gotten better. And when you're in college for four years you get better, especially at a college like Syracuse that develops you. I'm happy for him. We've been together for so long -- he was my high school teammate and I'm happy for him because he's showing the country that he's one of the top big men in the country. Rick lost 30 pounds so his numbers are different. He went from averaging seven rebounds per game to 12. He can move better. He's a better athlete. He's stronger. He's smarter. He sacrificed what he ate and how he lived and it's showing in his play. Against NC State we ran a pick-and-roll play. He split it and I gave him the ball and he turned and jumped -- almost flat-footed, without a dribble -- and dunked. I was like, wow, that was a big-time play. I've never seen him make that play. He used to need two dribbles but he just jumped. He doesn't have that weight on him anymore and he's able to do things like that.
Even though we went and played at Madison Square Garden, we'll still get knocked for not playing on the road much. It doesn't matter. We still get top wins and beat big-time programs. We don't leave the Carrier Dome but the Big East is the toughest conference in the country and our away schedule is probably the toughest in our league. We go to Villanova. We go to Georgetown. We go to Pitt. We go to UConn. We go to Louisville. Those are road games where I don't think anyone in the country would want to play. By our standards it doesn't matter if we don't travel much now.
One thing that would surprise people is when we go on the road we don't shootaround beforehand. We don't have shootarounds the day of a game. We stay in the hotel, we watch film, we eat. We don't touch a ball. We don't see the arena until it's time for the game. I just know that's how it's been since I've been here. I've never asked. I guess somebody got hurt way back during a walk-through. We go to the gym, we stretch, shoot and stretch and then we're ready to play the game. We were in Atlantic City at the Legends Classic tournament last month and teams were going to shootaround right after breakfast. We were going upstairs to go back to sleep. It works for us.
Around the conference
We've got seven ranked teams so I could talk about any of them, but Cincinnati is still unbeaten and not ranked. They returned two of their starters, Rashad Bishop and Yancy Gates. Gates, in my eyes he's an all-league player. Really good, really strong, physical. Now in his third year he really understands the level of play in the Big East and he's finally coming into his own. Cincinnati is an exciting team. They take on their coach's personality the way they play -- hard-nosed, get in your face.
I saw Pitt's only loss. All I can say is it's early in the year. It doesn't say how good of a team they are. They have a great coach and he's going to get them ready. The same with Nova. They have guys that can make plays off the bounce and a team like that is always going to be dangerous. They're both going to stay in the top 10, top 15 all year. I give Tennessee a lot of credit for that win over Pitt. They matched their toughness, they made shots. Scotty Hopson had a great game. They knocked Pitt in the mouth first and that's how they were able to come away with the victory. I was really surprised. I didn't think that Tennessee could beat Pittsburgh because Pitt is playing at a very high level right now. Coach Pearl deserves a lot of credit for that one.
I told you in the last blog about Kemba Walker. He's also got a great group of guys surrounding him that can help. UConn really needs every minute and every rebound out of Alex Oriakhi this year and he's producing. He's been through the grit of a Big East season before and gotten better over the summer, so he's stepping up to the plate. The other guys are good enough to let Kemba go off the ball a lot and they complement their one star player. It takes a lot of pressure off you to not always have to bring the ball up the court. Kemba is still calling the play from off the ball, and knowing him, he's probably calling his own play a lot of times. But to have a freshman guard like Shabazz Napier, who's a good ballhandler and can handle the pressure, allows Kemba to get stuff going, off the ball and on. Now you're running at him and it makes him that much tougher to guard. Corey Fisher and me, we run off the ball too, but [Walker] does it more. It's going to be tough to put up the kind of points he is now once he's in the Big East season, but he's a good enough player to sustain it. I don't know if the teams in the Big East are going to let him go off for 30 but he's a good enough player to be able to put his numbers up.