The length of Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams could cause problems for Indiana.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (WDRB) – As much as Indiana struggled against Temple last Sunday, Syracuse struggled even more against the Owls. Temple gave Syracuse its first defeat this season – and did it in Madison Square Garden in front of primarily Syracuse fans.
Looking for another common opponent for the Orange and Hoosiers?
Georgetown qualifies. Indiana survived the Hoyas in overtime in Brooklyn last November. Georgetown played Syracuse twice – and beat the Orange twice. In fact, Georgetown limited Syracuse to 39 points when they played in the Verizon Center nearly three weeks ago.
Thursday night in the Verizon Center the comparative score game will end because the Orange and Hoosiers will play in the East Regional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament. The winner will need one more win to qualify for the Final Four. Don't ask about the loser.
The talk around town seems to be tilting toward a Syracuse victory, even though Indiana is favored by about five points. I asked former Maryland coach Gary Williams to explain why so many people like the Orange.
His answer was not surprising. Basketball insiders wonder if Indiana, a team with a pair of undersized guards, can handle the 2-3 zone that Syracuse never abandons. Zone is not the defense of choice in the Big Ten. And Indiana had some issues attacking the zone Northwestern played. Northwestern is not Syracuse.
"You look at Indiana and how many times in the last two months have they played a team that's played them all zone," Williams said. "None. That's always the advantage. You can't get your second team to play at the level that Syracuse plays the zone. What do you do?
"It's an issue where if you're in a league with them, you play five straight teams that play man-to-man, and then all of a sudden you play Syracuse. You might only have two days to get ready for a zone. Jim (Boeheim, the Syracuse coach) recruits to a zone. So they're long, thin, they can do a lot of things with the zone in terms of double-teaming and matching up in the corner.
"There's no way you can get a second team to show that in practice. You can get it off tape. But when you get out there on the court and see how big they are and how quick they are, that becomes a problem."
I checked some numbers:
The last five teams that Syracuse has played have shot at least five percentage points under their season average. In those five games, the Syracuse opponents have made only 22.2 percent of their three-point attempts, only 24 of 108.
Is there a flip side?
Williams says that there is.
"The other side of that is the ability of Indiana to score in transition is going to be really big," Williams said. "If you can do that, you don't have to worry about the zone. You're taking shots before they can get that set up. Indiana has proven to be a very good running team, probably as good as anybody in the Big Ten.
"There should be opportunities because Syracuse overall has not shot the ball that well. If they can keep them from getting second shots, they can run.
"(Cody) Zeller can run with any big man. (Victor) Oladipo is quick in transition. You see Oladipo sometimes even if the ball goes in, he's out at halfcourt before everybody else is."
There is also a dissenting voice. Former Indiana coach and player Dan Dakich likes Indiana, 74-66. He believes that the Hoosiers will be able to score on effort plays. He can see Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller causing problems from inside of the teeth of the Syracuse zone.