With Indiana’s win over Temple Sunday afternoon, the Sweet 16 matchup is set for Syracuse and the Hoosiers to do battle in the Verizon Center Thursday. Indiana did not play their best game by any stretch of the imagination, but found a way to win down the stretch in the 58-52 battle with the Owls. The entire city of Syracuse were pulling for the Owls, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
Indiana is a team that ranks in the top five in the NCAA in scoring, and top ten in the NCAA in shooting percentage. They are a top 25 rebounding team, and have four players that shoot better than 40% from three on the season. Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller, and Christian Watford are all special players who can be a difference maker on the court at any point in a game.
Think it sounds like an absolute nightmare for Syracuse and the 2-3 zone? Well you’re absolutely right. But make no mistake about it, Indiana is a beatable team, and here’s how Syracuse can do it.
With five Hoosiers averaging 9 points or more a game, it is very difficult to slow this up tempo offense down. Indiana loves to get out and run with the ball, and I think this almost plays to Syracuse’s advantage to an extent. The Orange are much more efficient when they can run with the ball over a half court set, so a fast paced game could help this offense that has struggled mightily at times this season.
So with so many offensive weapons, who should Syracuse focus on primarily? I think the zone should do a good job at containing Zeller to an extent, and that Watford and Oladipo have to be the focus defensively for the Orange. If these guys get going from behind the arc, it is going to be an extremely long night for the Orange faithful down in DC this Thursday. Oladipo will hit every single open look he gets, and the Syracuse zone is going to have to be more active than it has been all season. A balanced scoring attack is extremely difficult to beat, but if Syracuse can find a way to stop one of the Indiana shooters while containing the production of Zeller, Syracuse will be in position to win the game.
Syracuse is a very difficult team to beat on the glass. And if the Orange are going to upset the Hoosiers, this trend is going to have to continue. I don’t see a scenario where Syracuse gets outrebounded and wins the game, barring a three point barrage and a ridiculous shooting day from the field. And knowing how Syracuse has performed on offense this season, I think it’s safe to say we need them to rebound.
Syracuse is just as athletic as Indiana, which leads me to my next point. It is critical for the Orange to stay out of foul trouble. If they want to win this game, they need James Southerland’s length and Rakeem Christmas’ rebounding on the floor. Both players have managed to get in to some foul trouble at various times throughout the season, and this can’t happen if Syracuse is going to hang with what is in my opinion one of the two most talented teams in the tournament.
If the Orange can do these three main things, they will be right there with Indiana at the end of the game. Indiana is a great team, but as they’ve shown today, they are more than beatable on any given day. In my opinion, if the Hoosiers play the same game Thursday that they played today against Temple, Syracuse will be advancing to the Elite Eight.