Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Sunday, April 14
The Indiana Daily Student

men's basketball

Column: There’s more than an Elite 8 bid on the line for IU

When Indiana and Syracuse square off tonight in Washington, D.C., more than a trip to the Elite Eight will be on the line for the Hoosiers.

Ever since IU’s journey ended last year in the Sweet 16, a national championship has been the main goal for the Hoosiers.

Whether it is fair or not, when your expectations are targeting the ultimate prize, falling short of the goal would be an emotional let-down no matter what round it occurred in.

But advancing further than the Sweet 16 for the first time since the 2002 national runner-up season is the next step — a symbolic step — that represents the difference from last year to this season.

To get to where IU wants to be, the Hoosiers must go further than where they were last season.

The Elite Eight is that next step.

“The vision of where you think you can go has to be greater than the reality of where you’re sitting,” Crean said about the team’s motivation after last season’s Sweet 16 loss. “That’s where your energy comes from, and if you’re doing that, then you’ve got a real great chance to keep moving forward.”

Aside from what a win would mean for the current Hoosiers, this game is also symbolic because of the historic undertones that will undoubtedly surround the coverage of this game.

If you haven’t already, prepare yourself to see Keith Smart’s shot that defeated Syracuse in the ’87 national championship game at least five times between now and the end of the game Thursday night.

These two teams are forever tied to that moment.

Similarly, the 2012-13 Hoosiers will be forever connected to the 1987 team — even if none of the players on this year’s roster were alive to watch the 1987 team play.

Until an IU team wins banner number six, every team wearing the crimson and cream will be compared to ’87 just like the ’87 team was compared to the ’80-’81 team before it and the ’80-’81 team was paralleled with the ’75-’76 team.

Getting to the level of the ’87 team is the driving force of the Hoosiers, no matter what it takes or how it happens.

This is why you can look at it as a coincidence, or you can call it fate, that Indiana and Syracuse will meet up in the NCAA tournament for the first time since the Hoosiers defeated the Orange in the 1987 national championship.

Whatever you call it, the reality is that the 2012-13 Hoosiers must now go through the same school and the same coach, Jim Boeheim, that the ’87 IU team vanquished to win the school’s last NCAA championship.

A game that weighed heavily on Boeheim until he finally won a national championship in 2003.

“When you lose a game like that, you really almost never get over it,” Boeheim said. “I got over it in 2003. That’s when I really ... I probably thought about it for those 26 years most of the time.”

Sometimes it just seems like the sport gods enjoy the historical symmetry that a matchup like this creates.

Remember when the Red Sox had to go through the Yankees to break the curse of the Bambino or when Peyton Manning and the Colts finally busted through the brick wall of the New England Patriots to finally bring the Lombardi trophy to Indianapolis?

For one reason or another, historic story lines like IU-Syracuse sometimes align to ultimately create an even more meaningful and symbolic moment in the present.

Now, it’s up to the Hoosiers to capture the moment by following in the footsteps of the ’87 team with a win against Syracuse.

Syracuse’s athleticism is what makes their defense — in particular their 2-3 zone — difficult to attack.

Crean, who coached against Boeheim and Syracuse twice while at Marquette, said Syracuse’s zone defense is always great because of the players Boeheim recruits.

“The challenge (of Syracuse’s zone) never ceases,” Crean said. “It’s always great because he recruits — in my mind so that defense he’s got great length, there is great foot speed, they cover ground in a short period of time, they move on the pass and not just the catch, there is shot blockers that come from the wings, the long-arm guards always create an issue.”

Attacking the zone comes down to a couple key factors: ball movement, penetration and knocking down shots.

This season, the Hoosiers are shooting 53 percent from the field against zone defenses, according to ESPN.

When the Hoosiers have had the most success against a zone, it is because they are frequently reversing the ball around the perimeter and into the paint, which forces the defense to be constantly moving.

If a defense is moving back and forth, they cannot get set, opening up lanes for slashers like Oladipo, Will Sheehey, Yogi Ferrell and Christian Watford.

Once guys are able to get persistent penetration into the middle of the zone, defenders might begin to collapse and over-help too early and often, which can leave shooters open along the perimeter.

Also, consistently working the ball into a skilled scoring post man like Cody Zeller can have the same effects on a defense.

Working inside-out is one of the best ways to beat a zone, but only if shooters are making shots.

Offensively, I see the Hoosiers having success against Syracuse’s zone if they come out with the aggressive mentality of “bombs away.”

Look for shooters like Jordan Hulls, Watford, Sheehey or Oladipo to have good nights after a few days of practice.

Defensively, IU needs to be as solid as they were in Dayton to limit Syracuse’s big four (C.J. Fair, Brandon Triche, James Southerland and Michael Carter-Williams), who all average in double figures.

In what will probably turn into a defensive struggle, the Hoosiers need to make the Orange’s shooters inefficient to give IU a chance.

At this point in the tournament, mental toughness is just as important as any of the X’s and O’s that go into a game, which is why IU has the advantage against the fifth-place team from the Big East.

Hoosiers win in a nail-biter, 69 to 63, and advance to the Elite Eight.


Get stories like this in your inbox