The statement has been made many times over this season, that Tom Izzo's teams are much better in March than they are in November and December. But given a team of this level of experience, with the two aforementioned players going along with the likes of Kalin Lucas, Draymond Green and Delvon Roe, shouldn't they be able to hit the ground running to a certain extent? At the very least Michigan State should not be averaging 17 turnovers per game (which they matched last night) with Lucas accounting for six of those. Green and Lucious combined for 10 assists and four turnovers and have been MSU's most consistent decision-makers to this point in the season but they'll need others to get on board in regards to valuing the basketball if they're to live up to the favorite status in the Big Ten. Another concern from Tuesday's loss: their overuse of the perimeter shot.
Teams traditionally put up a high percentage of three pointers when playing Syracuse due to the length of the Orange zone, but for 24 of their 54 shots to come from behind the arc seems a bit high for Michigan State. Credit the Syracuse defense, especially Jackson and Moussa Keita inside, but if you're the Spartans you have to be more aggressive in probing the spaces within the defense. That, along with a 38-30 deficit on the glass, may be two of the reasons why Coach Izzo used the word "sissy" in describing the play of his team. You have to think that the Spartans will be fine by the time Big Ten play rolls around in a few weeks, but there are issues in regards to their decision-making that must be ironed out if they're to contend with the likes of Illinois, Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin.
As for Syracuse, the Orange will be come an even better offensive team as guys further accept the value of a good shot. Jim Boeheim's team made just two of eleven shots from behind the arc, but at the least they did a better job of working the ball inside through either dribble penetration or entry passes into the post. And given how well Jackson can pass the basketball it may serve them well to have guards Jardine and Brandon Triche work the ball inside to their senior a bit more as the season wears on. And given the hype that surrounded Fab Melo before the season began who would have thought that Keita off the bench would be the more effective post player of the two? In 27 minutes off the bench he accounted for three points, three blocks and a critical assist on a Jackson dunk that put Syracuse up 60-50 with 5:34 remaining. Along with classmates C.J. Fair and Dion Waiters, Keita will be a valuable resource off the bench for a Syracuse team whose strength lies in its balance. Provided they all keep this in mind, the Orange will be a contender in the Big East.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Kansas still has some kinks to work out before the addition of Josh Selby.
Solely looking at the final score of a game can be misleading, as is the case with Kansas' 81-68 win over Memphis in the first game of the Jimmy V Classic. Kansas assisted on 19 of their 32 made baskets, but also turned the basketball over 22 times to result in a turnover rate of 29.7%. Thomas Robinson provided a double-double off the bench with 10 points and 10 rebounds while the Morris twins combined for 30 points and 15 rebounds, but there were some troubling stretches in the first half where they struggled mightily against the Memphis pressure. Could that mean more minutes in the backcourt for Elijah Johnson, who had three assists (no turnovers) to go along with seven points while starters Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed struggled? Tyshawn Taylor had four turnovers to go along with four assists and 13 points, but even when Selby is able to play Kansas needs to find a way to keep Johnson in the rotation. As the competition gets even tougher in Big 12 play the Jayhawks will need to get back to their efficient ways (average offensive efficiency: 122.8, last night's: 109.5) in terms of taking care of the basketball (their effective FG% last night was at their season average, which underlines the turnover problem).
2. Despite the enthusiasm surrounding the program St. John's still has to find itself.
Dwight Hardy scored a career-high 24 points for the Red Storm, but their 5-game win streak came to an end as Andrew Nicholson led a Bona comeback in a 67-66 victory for the Bonnies. Nicholson was quiet in the first half but had a stretch in the second half where he scored seven straight points to kick-start a 12-2 St. Bonaventure run to tie the game at 49. Nicholson finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds while Michael Davenport scored 22 to lead the winners, while outside of Hardy and Justin Brownlee (14 points, four assists) the Red Storm struggled offensively. Dwayne Polee has been quiet since reaching double figures in the first two games of the season (played just 15 minutes the last two games) and D.J. Kennedy, a preseason All-Big East selection, has scored six points of fewer in three of the last four games. There are still bouts with inconsistency for Steve Lavin's team, as is to be expected of a program in the first year of a new regime. Should there be panic amongst the masses? Definitely not, but maybe the optimism becomes a bit more guarded in realizing that Rome wasn't built in a day.
3. Since their first-round win over UConn in 2008 it's been a steady plummet for San Diego.
The Toreros won 21 games that season and the West Coast Conference Tournament crown in Bill Grier's first season in charge of the program. But in the two full seasons since Coach Grier's teams have posted records of 16-16 and 11-21, and last night's 74-70 loss to Fresno State dropped USD to 1-7 on the season. After last season's tough non-conference slate the hope was that the Toreros would be able to bounce back this season given the number of young players who had to make contributions a season ago. But if the seven consecutive losses are any indication of what's in story this season, USD is in for a long rebuilding campaign as their lone win came over a Non-Division I opponent (Occidental). Darian Norris led the way for San Diego with 14 points but without a true difference-maker on the offensive end of the floor the Toreros are bound to struggle in the WCC.
Top Three Games
1. Belmont 88, Middle Tennessee 87 (2 OT) Jordan Campbell's 24 points led the way for the Bruins, who scored at least 85 points for the fourth consecutive game in beating the Blue Raiders in Nashville. Ian Clark (15 points) and Mick Hedgepeth (10) also scored in double figured for Belmont while Middle Tennessee was led by Jason Jones, J.T. Sulton and James Washington who scored 19 points apiece.
2. Georgia 73, Georgia Tech 72 Dustin Ware scored 21 points, making seven three pointers with the last giving the Bulldogs the lead with 15.3 seconds remaining as they knocked off their rivals in Atlanta. Trey Thompkins added 21 of his own while Iman Shumpert led the Yellow Jackets with 18.
3. St. Bonaventure 67, St. John's 66
Three Notable Performances
1. G/F Will Clyburn (Utah) 23 points, 13 rebounds, seven steals and four assists in the Utes' 67-67 win over Pepperdine.
2. F Justin Rutty (Quinnipiac) 27 points and 11 rebounds in the Bobcats' 84-78 win over Lehigh. Rutty made all 11 free throws attempted one game after making just two of eight.
3. G Jordan Campbell (Belmont) Made eight of fourteen three-pointers on the night, scoring 24 points in the Bruins' 88-87 double overtime win over Middle Tennessee.