Indiana senior forward Will Sheehey remembers how painful it was to watch his team play one of its worst games at the worst time last March.
The Hoosiers, then a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, laid an egg in a Sweet 16 matchup with Syracuse and watched their national title hopes slip away.
Nine months later, the teams will square off again in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The teams – both IU (6-1) and the No. 4 Orange (7-0) – share that storyline but have very different casts this time around.
Both teams are completely different than last year, said Sheehey, who is averaging 11.1 points and 4.6 rebounds for the Hoosiers. We’re going to look at it purely as a basketball game, not the emotions surrounding it. We’re going to dive into the film – and we have been – looking at specific things within the game, not necessarily just the emotional part but really the X’s and O’s.
IU coach Tom Crean said the subplot doesn’t make sense to most of his players, anyway. Only Sheehey and sophomore guard Yogi Ferrell played primary roles last season, and while the other returners might remember the sting of that loss, six freshmen and graduate transfer Evan Gordon don’t.
Film of that March matchup just wasn’t helpful, Crean said.
Focusing on the now, and eliminating the emotions, as Sheehey said, has helped IU maintain its composure ahead of its toughest nonconference game of the season.
The turnovers and the mental errors were some of the most painful things the first time we played them. We’ve got to make sure we’re not putting them on the foul line, Crean said. I don’t want to say simple basketball, but we don’t need to complicate it, and I know that’s gonna be easier said than done with it being a true road game and the level of play Syracuse has had.
There are a couple other storylines, too.
Syracuse is now home to former IU signee Ron Patterson, who was ruled academically ineligible after he failed to make grades in summer school classes. Patterson went to prep school at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire and wound up signing with the Orange in the fall of 2012.
Sophomore forward Jeremy Hollowell said at Big Ten media day Oct. 31 that he and Patterson still keep in touch. Both couldn’t wait for this game.
I’ve got it circled on my calendar, he said. I know he does, too.
The Hoosiers swept in on a Syracuse recruit, too. Freshman forward Noah Vonleh was considering the Orange before taking a visit to Bloomington last fall. Shortly afterward, he committed to the Hoosiers.
That was one of the schools I almost went to, said Vonleh, who is averaging 12.9 points and 10.4 rebounds.
Syracuse is the favorite, but an IU win could put the Hoosiers in the top 25 for the first time this season.
Everyone just gets really excited to play these big games, Sheehey said. We’re just going to try to do what we do: move the ball and move bodies.