WASHINGTON – Indiana will face a challenge it rarely sees when the No. 1 seed Hoosiers (29-6) play No. 4 seed Syracuse (27-9).
The Hoosiers will have to deal with the Oranges 2-3 zone in todays 9:45 p.m. NCAA tournament Sweet 16 game at the Verizon Center.
The winner advances to Saturdays East Regional finals and will face the winner of todays regional semifinal between No. 2 seed Miami and No. 3 seed Marquette.
They stay in the zone all 40 minutes, no matter what happens; we are going to have to be prepared for that all 40 minutes, Indiana guard Victor Oladipo said.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has refined his matchup zone for decades, and the results have him as the second winningest coach in Division I history with 918 victories and the 2003 NCAA tournament title.
The Orange has taken its defense to another level this season, holding teams to 37.3 percent shooting, which ranks No. 3 nationally, and to 28.9 percent three-point shooting, sixth nationally.
Syracuse averages nine steals, which is tied for 14th in the country, and has forced opponents to commit 15.5 turnovers per game
The Orange also averages 6.1 blocks and utilizes a long starting lineup of 6-foot-4 Brandon Triche, 6-6 Michael Carter-Williams, 6-8 C.J. Fair, 6-8 Jerami Grant and 6-9 Rakeem Christmas.
They are long, obviously, Indiana guard Kevin Yogi Ferrell said. We just have to take care of the ball, and then we will be OK. We got to knock down open shots. We can kind of see a couple of openings, where we can hit open jumpers. We cant stand around too much because I feel that is what Syracuse tries to do – make their opponents stand and pass the ball back and forth.
Indiana also cannot settle for perimeter jump shots, even though the Hoosiers rank third in three-point field goal percentage at 40.8 percent.
I think we can force them to slow down a little bit on the offensive end, Carter-Williams said. If we can get on their shooters and make them take tough shots and stuff they normally dont do, we can throw them off their game.
The Hoosiers may have the perfect weapon to combat the Oranges zone in forward Cody Zeller.
The 7-foot sophomore, who leads IU with 16.7 points and 8 rebounds per game, also averages 1.3 assists.
Zeller will likely need to come out to the high post and be a distributor to teammates.
(The zone) is going to pose a lot of problems for us, but we have a lot of talented guys, Zeller said. Hopefully, we can find some openings.
Indiana coach Tom Crean has experience against Syracuses zone from when he coached at Marquette.
But Crean is 0-2 against Syracuse.
At Marquette we didnt necessarily have the ability to score in the low post that maybe we have now. So it was a little bit different attack, Crean said. It allows you to be a little bit more creative.
I dont think you can look at that zone and think youre going to beat it any one way, but I dont think you can look at the zone and think you can stand around and pass the ball around the perimeter, either; that is a recipe for defeat.