It appears the NCAA scheduling committee has a flair for the dramatic. The early round of games tonight (7:00-7:30 starts) is good, but the game of the night is the finale in Washington D.C. between Syracuse and Indiana. Arguably the most talented team in the country takes the floor against one of the most feared tourney defenses, the vaunted Syracuse matchup zone.
Does Indiana have enough discipline and toughness to crack Boeheim’s zone defense and prevail, or are the Hoosiers poised for another one of the recent inexplicable no-shows where Zeller gets pushed off the block and the rest of the team backs down with him??
Let’s dig inside this matchup for tonight’s featured pick.
#4 Syracuse Orange vs. #1 Indiana Hoosiers -5 (East Regional Semifinal)
Both teams enter tonight’s game having proven they can beat anyone; Indiana has won at Michigan and Michigan State, Syracuse has won at Louisville. But both teams have also proven they can lay a big fat egg on occasion as well. Indiana lost three of their last seven games including losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State by a combined 21 points, and neither one was on the road. Syracuse can top that, with a 61-39 loss at Georgetown and getting outscored 56-26 in the second half in the Big East Final against Louisville.
The talent is undeniable on both sides of the ball. Indiana is loaded. Cody Zeller is a lottery pick big-man and Victor Oladipo is the best two-way player in the country. Indiana can also balance the floor with good shooters like Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford and super sixth-man Will Sheehey. Their freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell has been spectacular at times, but is also the biggest question mark surrounding this team personnel-wise.
He will have his hands full tonight with Syracuse’s rangy 6’7’’ point guard Michael Carter-Williams. MCW has the talent of a lottery pick, but has been erratic at times this season as well. He is a year older than Ferrell, but given that he played so little last year both are essentially freshman point guards playing in the brightest spotlight so far this season.
Carter-Williams has some help on his team, namely hyper-athletic wing CJ Fair. Fair contributed 18 points and 6 boards in their easier-than-it-looks on paper 66-60 win over Cal in the second round. He is going to need to provide a big offensive output tonight for Syracuse to score enough points to beat Indiana.
The Hoosiers can score in a ton of different ways, which makes them a really bad matchup for Syracuse. The Orange’s match-up zone, contrary to popular zone logic, wreaks havoc on teams that are too jump shot dependent. Because of their great length and ability to close out quickly, there aren’t a ton of wide-open jumpers available from just swinging the basketball. Instead, teams that thrive against Syracuse are able to effectively dribble-drive and create opportunities off the bounce; both to shoot and to kick to open spot-up shooters. This bodes well for Indiana’s aggressive offensive style. They are also comfortable looking for shots early in the shot clock, which is wise against a good zone – if you have an open look, TAKE IT. Indiana does that well.
I like IU in this matchup, but a TON is going to rest on the ability of Oladipo and Ferrell to penetrate the zone and remain under control. If they can do that effectively enough (and I think they will) look for Zeller, Hulls, and the supporting crew to have big games. In the end, they have a lot more offensive firepower than the Orange, who I expect to struggle to score at times.
I like Indiana to score a lot more points than most people are expecting tonight. They are relentless in forcing tempo and are unlikely to let Syracuse catch them napping like Temple and Khaliff Wyatt did last weekend. Give me the Hoosiers to advance to an entertaining regional final against Miami. I can’t wait to see Victor Oladipo slide over and lock up Shane Larkin (or at least try to…)
Free Pick: Indiana Hoosiers -5