Our own Andy Katz will have a full recap later tonight, but in the meantime here are some quick thoughts on Syracuse’s 72-58 win over Michigan State.
Syracuse’s famed zone is as good as ever. This is no surprise -- you can’t spell “Syracuse” without “2-3 zone.” (OK, so you can, but just go with it.) And this zone isn’t a sit-back-and-force-bad-shots type of 2-3, though it does have that effect. The Orange zone extends, pressures shooters, forces turnovers and slides seamlessly from one end of the court to the other. Michigan State was able to find gaps here and there, but more often than not (and especially in the first half), the Spartans were stuck tossing the ball around on the perimeter, trying and failing to get Draymond Green a touch at the top of the key. And when Michigan State did break down the zone, Syracuse’s lengthy interior defenders were there to erase the opportunity. A thoroughly impressive defensive effort.
In the meantime, Michigan State becomes the best -- and most maddening -- 6-3 team in the country. If this was any other team, you’d ask for someone to kindly show you where the beef is. (If only there were a catchier way of asking that question.) But MSU’s losses have come against very good teams. All of them have come in either neutral or hostile environments. And the Spartans have flashed plenty of Final Four potential in each. The problem, as always: turnovers. MSU gave the ball away 16 times on Tuesday night, which is in character, given that Michigan State entered the game as one of the worst teams in the country in turnover percentage. At some point, this group is going to have to learn how to take care of the ball. If it doesn't, we’ll still be here in February talking about how good the Spartans look, and how they’ll figure it out come March, and how much better they'd be if they could just keep control of the ball. Cross file that one under “Tom Izzo” and “nightmare scenario.” In other words: The time to stop turning the ball over is now.
Speaking of which, did you see Izzo’s face on the bench as the final seconds ticked away? Cross file that one under “locker room speeches” and “glad I won’t be there.”
Syracuse is not a 3-point shooting team, and knows it. The Orange attempted a mere 11 3s and made only two of them. This team is at its best when attacking the rim, and they were at their best Tuesday night. Rick Jackson opened the game with a dunk-fest, and Syracuse was able to get to the rim in multiple hyphenated ways -- post-ups, curl-screens, dribble-drives, dump-offs, all of it. The Cuse will have to make some shots eventually -- there are good shooters on this team -- but until that day, they seem to have the whole “get easy looks” thing down pat.
Most impressive for Syracuse? Jackson, of course: 17 points, 16 rebounds, six of which came on the offensive end. That’s an obvious one. But Scoop Jardine, who got his 19 points on an efficient 7-of-9 shooting, wasn’t too bad either.
Most impressive for Michigan State? Durrell Summers scored 18 points and grabbed six rebounds, though he was characteristically off-and-on from beyond the arc. And though he only scored 6 points, Draymond Green continued his impressive streak of versatile play with an 11-rebound, five-assist, three-steal night.
Oh, and Kalin Lucas still doesn’t look 100 percent. Whether the Achilles is still sore, or Lucas is still just rusty from the lost offseason, he’s clearly missing his touch and, like the rest of his team, is struggling to hold onto the ball (Lucas had six turnovers Tuesday).
I think we’re officially past the physical feeling-out point of the year for both players and referees. This game was physical, but never overly so. The refs let both teams play, but never let the game turn into a slugfest. There were questionable calls here and there -- aren’t there always? -- but in general, it was great to see an officiating crew let the game unfold with a good sense of where the line eventually had to be drawn.
At this point in his career, the best description for Korie Lucious is “shotmaker.” Lucious is still a little too turnover-prone to be truly efficient, but his ability to break down defenders and hit shots from everywhere -- whether a set shot from behind the arc or slightly fading from 15 feet -- has kept the Spartans in more than one game this season.
Did we mention that Michigan State needs to stop turning the ball over? Have we talked about this enough already? Because, yeah, wow. Michigan State really needs to stop turning the ball over. Basketball is a mysterious fig, but sometimes it’s pretty simple. This is one of those times.