One main key for Syracuse in their game against Indiana Thursday night will absolutely be the guard play. This team has gone as far as the guards have taken them all season long, and that trend will continue against the Hoosiers. The big men have played good defense this season inside the paint, and that will obviously have to continue, but from both a defensive and offensive standpoint the guards are going to have to be at their best for the Orange to come out on top over Indiana.
The first key for the guards to be successful is to get the ball in the paint. The first two games of the tournament both Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams have done a great job at driving and dishing, and have found CJ Fair on numerous occasions to knock down an open jump shot. Fair is the most consistent player on this Syracuse team, so getting him open looks is big. This also enables James Southerland to hover around the three point line, where he has been shooting lights out since the Big East Tournament began last week.
The next key is to get to the foul line. Although the combo of Carter-Williams and Triche have been less than impressive from the free throw line, it will be important for the guards to take some contact. If Syracuse can get a free throw shooting edge, it could absolutely be the difference between a win and a loss. Not only does this get Syracuse (what should be) easy points, but it also enables the big men to get more aggressive trying to draw contact if the Orange are in the bonus. If the Orange can draw some fouls and get some Hoosiers in foul trouble, they also can take some of that balanced scoring attack out of the game, and can really focus the defense on neutralizing some of the other scoring pieces for that potent offense.
And last but not least the guards need to protect the basketball. This is an obvious key to Syracuse’s success, but the Orange have turned the ball over 11 times or more in 7 of their losses this season, so a turnover-ridden game will spell doom for the Orange. Throw in the fact that Indiana lives to run, and you can almost guarantee that a Syracuse turnover will lead to Indiana points virtually every time. Triche turns the ball over his fair amount, but this responsibility is largely going to be on Michael Carter-Williams. If MCW can protect the ball and make some plays through both his assists and his looking to score layups, the Orange will have success on offense against the Indiana defense.
These keys are all very important, and the Orange are more than capable of doing all of these things. It is going to take a great game from the guards to have a successful evening Thursday night, and Jim Boeheim’s bunch are both athletic and talented enough where these guys can make plays.