The Syracuse Orange are 8-0 but it doesn't take a Jim Boeheim Press Conference snide comment to know they're not exactly wowing the nation. A quick look at the AP rankings shows you that opinions vary when it comes to the Orange, who have struggled in almost every game they've played so far this season.
A lot of SU fans don't feel like we know this team's potential yet. Or worse, they fear that we DO know this team's potential, or lack thereof. Fans will have a much clearer idea of where their Orange stand after Tuesday night's bigtime showdown with the Michigan State Spartans at Madison Square Garden.
The Spartans are 6-2 but don't be deceived into thinking they're down. If anything, they've just scheduled way too strong so far. Their losses came at the hands of the UConn Fightin' Kemba Walkers and the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils. It's typical of Tom Izzo to schedule tough for his Spartans early on, though even he feels like he's gone a little too far this year:
"I’ve learned one thing," Izzo said. "I might be the dumbest scheduler in America. My team is tired."
In a span of 13 days, MSU played six games in three different states, including three games in three days at the Maui Invitational in Hawaii.
Of those six games, three were against ranked opponents, most notably against No. 1 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C.
It probably doesn't help matters that the Spartans now travel to NYC where they'll play an undefeated Syracuse in the Orange's home-away-from-home. Throw in the fact that SU features the vaunted 2-3 Zone, a defense the Spartans struggled with against Bowling Green this weekend.
"You pretty much know you’re going to face a 2-3 zone, with a 7-footer, a 6-10 and a 6-7," Draymond Green said. "So you always know that about Syracuse. But their zone will be longer and it’s not going to have any gaps."
"Syracuse plays pretty much all zone and I think with the type of players we have, we should do good against a zone," Durrell Summers said. "We’ve got a lot of guys who can shoot the ball and get into the lane."
The Spartans have shooters but they also have quickness. Fab Melo...be prepared:
SU has more size than Michigan State, but the Spartans have exceptional quickness, with three athletic guards who can penetrate and pull up for jump shots. I'll be surprised if SU center Fab Melo isn't in foul trouble after 10 minutes.
As for who those Spartans are that will be giving Jim Boeheim ulcers all evening, here they are:
Senior Kalin Lucas and Summers lead the Spartans in scoring with 14.9 points per game and 14.5 points per game, respectively. Junior Draymond Green is also in double figures in scoring with 13.8 points per game. Green leads the team in rebounding (9.4 per game) and steals (2.0 per game), as well. Junior Korie Lucius leads the Spartans in assists with 4.13 per game. Lucius is fourth on the team in scoring with 9.0 points per game.
The Orange and Spartans have played sixteen times over the years with SU holding a 9-7 advantage. The last time the two tangled, Josh Pace, Billy Edelin and Hakim Warrick all scored 20+ points as the Orange won 96-83. Of course many SU fans will never forgot the 2000 Sweet Sixteen contest between the two teams...Syracuse seemed destined to win it at halftime, and then...Mateen Friggin' Cleaves.
In closing, I leave you with the words of Bill Pucko, who ponders why Jim Boeheim is so adamant about telling everyone how overrated his Orange are:
Maybe Boeheim is just trying to get his team’s attention. That was six wins ago and his tone hasn’t changed. It is harder to teach after a win than a loss and in that regard, the Orange haven’t cooperated. Which is what makes Tuesday night’s game against Michigan State in the Jimmy V Classic so interesting.
It is an opportunity for the team to prove its coach wrong. A win over the Spartans would represent an early season statement. But if what Boeheim is in fact correct, a win over Michigan State makes his job that much tougher.
Ironically, Syracuse might just be better off in the long run, losing, and being in fact, overrated.