Orange alert: Unbeaten Cuse has tough test

This might be obvious, but we should be clear about one thing: Syracuse isn’t going undefeated.

It’s nearly impossible to envision, considering the slate the Orange will face in the Big East over the next month -- beginning tonight at St. John’s (ESPNU, 7 p.m. ET).

After their trip to the Garden, the 16-0 Orange return home to play 15-1 Cincinnati, then go to No. 5 Pitt, then back to the Carrier Dome to face No. 7 Villanova and Seton Hall, and then on the road at Marquette, No. 9 Connecticut and South Florida, before a home game against rival Georgetown before going to Louisville and returning home for West Virginia.


“Everybody has tough stretches in this league,’’ Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “Everybody is going to get knocked around. Everybody is going to lose more than one. It’s a long way to go. There is no perfect team out there. Everybody will struggle at times.’’

Syracuse is no different from Duke, Ohio State, Kansas or San Diego State. The Orange have yet to play in a truly tough road environment in conference play.

Boeheim has been tough on this group. He’s obviously pleased with the undefeated start, but he’s well aware the Orange have survived more than cruised.

“We’ve made some plays when we’ve had to and we’ve had a lot of bad situations that we’ve gotten out of,’’ Boeheim said. “We played good against Michigan State, played well versus Notre Dame.’’

The Orange have survived in large part because Rick Jackson has been an anchor inside with a double-double average. And the perimeter of Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche has been more than solid.

But for the Orange to take that next step to elite status, they will need consistent play out of their freshmen, Dion Waiters, C.J. Fair and Fab Melo.

Boeheim said his bigs have struggled overall, save Jackson. And he said that once the league started there was an anticipation that it would get more physical. And it has in the few games so far against Providence, Notre Dame and at Seton Hall.

St. John’s shouldn’t be any different. And while the Red Storm have created a mini-buzz with their start so far, Syracuse can always expect to have at least half the house at the Garden with the drivable proximity to campus and the alumni base in the city, although the snowstorm that blitzed the East Coast might hinder some fans from traveling from central New York.

So the true read on the Orange may not come until they venture out of the tri-state area for the first time this season -- at Pitt on Jan. 17.

“This team has a chance by the end of the year,’’ said Boeheim. “I’m sure there will be a lot of people there [at MSG]. Our students will be down there. We’ll have people there. It should be good, if everybody can get there [with the storm].’’

Syracuse has a higher ceiling than most in the Big East due to the potential of the Orange to get major contributions from freshmen who haven’t developed yet. But where this team ends up in the standings and in the NCAA tourney bracket may largely be determined over the next month during this rugged stretch -- a stretch that begins tonight in the Big Apple.