I saw Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim before Syracuse's Jimmy V Classic game against Michigan State. He was concerned with the way his team was shooting.
The Orange came into the contest unbeaten but they had a number of close calls. They beat William and Mary, Michigan, Georgia Tech and NC State all by six points or less. So I felt the game against Tom Izzo and company would be a statement game.
Well my friends, Syracuse made a big statement. Its zone stifled Michigan State! I don't know why other teams don't play the zone. You can see how active the team is playing that defense.
Syracuse was also efficient on offense, shooting 50 percent in the first half to build a nine-point lead. Then there was Rick Jackson. He has been a force on the glass all season, a real Windex man. He grabbed 16 boards and poured in 17 points to get the Garden rocking and rolling.
This Syracuse team is even better than I first thought and I did have them ranked high in my preseason poll. Remember, the Orange lost Wesley Johnson to the Minnesota Timberwolves and he was a first-round pick! The team also lost the outside shooting of Andy Rautins, who is now a member of the New York Knicks. Arinze Onuaku, who provided muscle inside, is also gone, currently rehabbing from his season-ending leg injury during last year's Big East tournament.
With all of these quality players gone, I am impressed with the coaching job of Hall of Famer Boeheim. He has four diaper dandies in Fab Melo, C. J. Fair, Baye Moussa Keita and Dion Waiters. All of them contributed at the Garden on Tuesday and they will get better and better. Especially Keita, who gives the Orange a special dimension as a shot blocker inside.
The Orange will be in the hunt in the competitive Big East. This league is better than expected, too. You knew Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Villanova and Georgetown would be the frontrunners. But Notre Dame and Louisville are also better than advertised.
Nonetheless, Syracuse sent a message loud and clear with a 72-58 trouncing of Michigan State. The Orange are legit.