In what is sure to be an interesting matchup, we have a fast paced Indiana team that can shoot the lights out and we have a moderately paced Syracuse team and their infamous zone defense. Syracuse is battle tested and has shown they can lose badly and play poorly as evidenced by their 61-39 loss to Georgetown earlier in the month and they showed they could play hard and efficient to get wins as they did in their Big East Tournament win over Georgetown 2 weeks later. They managed to show both of these sides in their second round win over California. After being up 8 points at halftime they proceeded to have a 12 minute span without scoring a field goal, they scored 6 total baskets in the second half, and they missed 15 free throws. Fortunately they were able to overcome these offensive deficiencies by playing their famous zone and frustrating Cal’s star wing Allen Crabbe. Usually shooters are able to find holes in zone defenses, however on this night it was a combination of keying on Crabbe and a couple of missed open looks that led to The Orange advancing.
Top seeded Indiana had a different type of game on their hands. They came in heavily favored against Temple and most assumed they would be able to overpower and outrun the Owls. Apparently Khalif Wyatt wasn’t aware that his team was supposed to lie down and he delivered the most dominating performance of the tourney thus far. He was consistent throughout in scoring 31 points, several of which came against heavy defensive pressure. Indiana found themselves down by 4 with a little under 3 minutes left. They managed to go on a 10-0 run to end the game which featured a huge 3 pointer by star Victor Olapido. The game was played at a pace somewhere in between the pace of both teams and it showed that Indiana can be vulnerable in a slow paced contest. The game also reinforced what has been obvious for months now, the best played on Indiana is Olapido and not Cody Zeller.
This contest will be matters of can a zone defense contain the outside shooting abilities of Indiana. It will be a contrast in speeds as Indiana will likely push the ball more and want to get the game into transition. Indiana will have 4 shooters in the game at all times as well as established presence in the post in Zeller at all times. The key for Syracuse will be to keep the shooters in front of them while also rotating in the back of the zone and putting a body on the Indiana interior players. Indiana’s key will be to dictate the pace; they do not want to walk the ball up the floor against this zone.
In the end this will come down to which team can control the boards and defend the 3 point line. Indiana is a high scoring team coming off a low scoring game. They will be able to get open looks vs. the zone and it will be enough to carry them to victory.
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