NEW YORK – More than once during the past few weeks, forward C.J. Fair turned on his television and quickly became annoyed about the talk surrounding the Syracuse basketball team.
Or rather, the lack of it.
They aren't anymore.
Scoop Jardine scored 19 points and Rick Jackson snared 16 rebounds to lead Syracuse to a 72-58 victory over the seventh-ranked Spartans on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. Numerous players labeled the triumph as a "statement win," which was something the Orange needed after defeating four of its previous five opponents – all of them unranked – by single digits.
"Every win is a great win – especially against a team like Michigan State," Jardine said. "I feel like they're one of the top three teams in the country. They've been to two Final Fours. Their resume speaks for itself."
MSU entered the season with a No. 2 national ranking, but the Spartans have sputtered in recent weeks. They had to rally to beat Chaminade in the Maui Invitational and then lost to Connecticut – a team that was picked to finish 10th in the Big East – the following afternoon.
Tom Izzo's squad appeared to have turned the corner after giving top-ranked Duke all it could handle in an 84-79 loss in Durham last week. That's why Tuesday's effort was so hard to stomach for the Spartans, who shot just 38.9 percent and were outrebounded 38-30.
"It's been a long time since we were manhandled like this," Izzo said. "We turned into a pretty-boy, jump-shooting team instead of the blue-collar, fist-fighting team. I haven't been disappointed in a team like I was tonight in a couple of years."
Syracuse, 9-0, has struggled to make shots all season, but the Orange connected on 15-of-30 field goal attempts in the opening half and led 38-29 at intermission. At one point Syracuse was up by as many as 16 points, as Michigan State was rendered ineffective on both ends of the court.
"Our scouting report was great," Jardine said. "We knew every play. We knew everything they were doing. Once their plays blew up they didn't know what to do."
The other positive for Syracuse was the improved play of its freshmen. Fair, Dion Waiters, Fab Melo and Baye Moussa Keita combined for just 13 points and seven rebounds. But they still played integral roles for a team that committed just seven turnovers against a Michigan State team that prides itself on defense.
"We grew up tonight," Jardine said. "Our young players really got to see what college basketball is all about."
1. Pittsburgh (9-0) – Each of the Panthers' last four wins have come by 14 points or more. (1)
2. Georgetown (8-0) – The guards get all the attention, but the Hoyas' frontcourt players aren't bad, either. (2)
3. Syracuse (9-0) – Rick Jackson leads the Big East with 12.7 rebounds per game. (7)
4. Connecticut (7-0) – Kemba Walker had a triple-double against UMBC. (3)
7. West Virginia (6-2) – Casey Mitchell is averaging 21.7 points. (5)
8. Louisville (6-0) – Terrence Jennings averages a conference-best 3.5 blocks per game. (9)
11. Cincinnati (7-0) – The Bearcats lead the nation in scoring defense. Opponents are averaging just 51.4 points. (11)
14. Seton Hall (3-3) – Jeremy Hazell underwent surgery last week to repair his injured wrist. (12)
16. DePaul (3-4) – At least the Blue Demons have played some decent opponents. (16)
The Big East – Things could certainly change, but at this point the conference has surpassed the Big Ten as the best league in college basketball. Six of the country's 18 undefeated teams are from the Big East. And conference schools claimed championships at the Maui Invitational (Connecticut), the Old Spice Classic (Notre Dame) and the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament (Pittsburgh).
Mike Marra, Louisville – The 6-foot-4 sophomore guard is one of the biggest reasons the No. 24 Cardinals catapulted into the Associated Press poll this week. Marra – who averaged just 3.1 points last season – is scoring 13 points per game as a sophomore while dishing out 3.5 assists. Marra scored a career-high 23 points in Saturday's win over South Alabama.
Cincinnati – The Bearcats have been one of the league's biggest surprises thus far. Mick Cronin's squad is 7-0 following Saturday's 34-point victory over Toledo. It should be noted that Cincinnati has yet to play a team from a Big Six conference, but they did face a serviceable opponent in Dayton. That resulted in a 34-point win on a neutral court.
Marshon Brooks, Providence – Providence (9-1) needs three more victories to tie last season's win total thanks in large part to Brooks, who is the Big East's third-leading scorer with a 21.4-point average. Brooks scored a season-high 33 points against Brown on Monday and is averaging 28 points in his last four games.
West Virginia – The Mountaineers suffered a mild upset when they fell 79-76 at Miami on Saturday. The Hurricanes – who lost to Rutgers earlier this season – are generally regarded as one of the worst teams in the ACC. The loss is the second of the season for Bob Huggins, whose squad which was also defeated by Minnesota.
South Florida – The Bulls have six players who are averaging more turnovers than assists. That doesn't include starting guard Anthony Crater, who is averaging 3.7 assists and 2.8 turnovers. As a team South Florida is averaging 13.8 assists and 16.4 turnovers.
Fab Melo, Syracuse – The touted freshman continues to struggle for the Orange with a 2.6-point scoring average. But it may not be completely his fault. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said Monday that the Achilles injury that plagued Melo during the offseason has continued to give him problems this fall.
DePaul's defense – Opponents are averaging 75 points a game and shooting 48.5 percent against the Blue Demons. Both of those marks rank last in the Big East.
Big East teams started a combined 74-2 in home games this season … DePaul freshman Brandon Paul was named Big East Rookie of the Week after averaging 24 points on 69.6 percent shooting (16-of-23) in victories over Northern Illinois and Central Michigan … Marquette's Chris Otule had a career-high 19 points against Longwood. It was just the second time in Otule's career that he had scored in double figures … Marquette forward Joseph Fulce appears to be out for the season after injuring his knee in Tuesday's victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi … Pittsburgh had 27 assists on 31 field goals in a win over Rider … Georgetown's Austin Freeman – the Big East's Preseason Player of the Year – ranks fourth in the league in scoring with 20.1 points per game … Cincinnati opened its game against Toledo with a 32-5 run … St. John's shot a season-low 36.1 percent against Wagner.
THREE TO WATCH
UNLV at Louisville, Saturday – This will be the Cardinals' toughest test until a Dec. 31 showdown with Kentucky.
Tennessee vs. Pittsburgh, Saturday – This could be one of the top non-conference games of the season.
- Michigan State