The No. 8 Orange will face the first major test to their unbeaten start Tuesday night when they meet the seventh-ranked Spartans in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
Syracuse (8-0) is accustomed to strong starts, beginning 13-0 last season and 9-0 two seasons ago. The Orange have yet to play a Top 25 team, though, and are anxious to use this matchup as a measuring stick.
“Michigan State, that is what you come to Syracuse for, to play those types of games,” point guard Scoop Jardine said. “I’ve been watching them all year. They are a good team. They are definitely a top-two team in the country in my eyes. It is going to be tough for us.”
Michigan State (6-2) has played one of the nation’s toughest schedules, losing to Connecticut and beating then-No. 13 Washington last month in the Maui Invitational. The Spartans also fell 84-79 at No. 1 Duke on Wednesday.
“I might be the dumbest scheduler in America,” coach Tom Izzo said. “My team is tired.”
Among Izzo’s concerns is Kalin Lucas. Michigan State’s leading scorer was held without a point for the second time in his career Saturday, taking one shot in 15 minutes of a 74-39 home win over Bowling Green.
Lucas, averaging 14.9 points, tore an Achilles’ tendon last season.
“The poor guy, he’s drained,” Izzo said. “He asked not to play the second half. His foot was a little sore, but that wasn’t the problem.”
Jardine will likely try to take advantage of Lucas’ physical problems. The Orange guard scored 23 points to lead the way in a 65-59 victory over North Carolina State on Saturday.
Syracuse topped the nation in field-goal percentage at 51.6 last season. The Orange shot 38.3 percent Saturday, the third time they finished below 40, and are at 43.0 percent overall.
“The main problem is our offense. We’ve got to find a way to make some of those, you can’t shoot 2 for 16 (on 3-pointers),” coach Jim Boeheim said. “We’d have two or three losses if we were playing average defense. You don’t win games shooting 38 percent. At least we’ve proven we can win a close game at this stage.”
Last season, Syracuse starters Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins both shot over 40 percent on 3-pointers. Those two are gone, and current starters Jardine, Brandon Triche and Kris Joseph are all below 30 percent.
“We are not going to make a lot of them but we have to make some of them,” Boeheim said.
With Lucas not at 100 percent, the Spartans are looking for more from senior forward Durrell Summers, who averaged 12.0 points in the games against UConn, Washington and Duke. He averaged 18.5 in four wins at home against lesser competition.
Syracuse has won the last three meetings with Michigan State to take a 9-7 lead in the series. The Orange took the most recent matchup 96-83 on Jan. 3, 2004.