Last season, before the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, IU Coach Tom Crean had four days to prepare his veteran team to break through Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone defense.
But even as the No. 1 team in the country for much of the season, the Hoosiers met their match.
A team that had shot 41.1 percent from beyond the arc during the season made just three of 15 3-point shots, allowing the Syracuse defense to pressure Cody
Zeller in the post and create havoc whenever the No. 4 pick in last summer’s NBA Draft tried to put up a shot in the paint.
Sure, the Hoosiers missed some easy points in the paint, some open looks from long-range and got to the foul line just 24 times. As Crean said after the game, it just wasn’t meant to be.
“We just made too many mistakes,” Crean said on Monday. “We picked a bad time to have a bad game.”
After a week to prepare, tonight the Hoosiers travel to Syracuse, N.Y., for their battle in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge to face a team who recently moved into the top five
in the country — to No. 4 — after Monday’s latest AP poll was released.
Though the pain still lingers from being knocked out of last year’s tournament, senior forward Will Sheehey said preparing for tonight’s game has involved more film and less reflection to take down the Orange.
“We’re going to look at it purely like a basketball game, not really with the emotions surrounding it,” Sheehey said. “Obviously, them ending your season last year isn’t what you want to do, but we’re going to dive into some film, and we have been looking at some specific things from the game – not necessarily the emotional part but more the Xs and Os.”
In the final game of last season, Sheehey was one of only five IU players who managed to score against the Syracuse defense, adding nine points while grabbing four offensive rebounds.
Because the Hoosiers don’t quite have the shooting capabilities as last year’s team with then-seniors Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford, Crean said grabbing missed shots in the paint and getting second and third opportunities in a single possession will be key for a team that has struggled at times from outside.
“One thing for us a year ago is we shot the ball extremely well from three, and that game we didn’t,” Crean said. “You’ve still got to have other ways to get there.
We need to get to the foul line and get offensive rebounds. Those are things we’ve got to be able to do now no matter who we play.
“It would be silly for us to go up there and think we’re going to out-shoot them from the 3-point line; that’s not what our team is right now, but there are a lot of different ways we can play and attack in this game.”
Syracuse brings a solid, balanced scoring attack led by senior C.J. Fair, the member of the Orange who hit double figures — 11 points — against the Hoosiers last season.
Through seven games this year, he’s putting up 18 points per game while playing in more than 36 minutes per game.
More menacing still, even after losing James Southerland, Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche after last season, the Syracuse defense that has continued to
thrive this season, grabbing more than 10 steals per game and forcing their opponents into more than 17 turnovers per game.
In Washington, D.C., last spring for their Sweet 16 matchup, the Hoosiers committed 19 turnovers — including 12 in the first half. Then a freshman, Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell coughed it up four times while failing to score any points and taking a seat to start the second half for the first time all season.
Although Crean shied away from looking at tonight’s game as a rematch for revenge, he said his coaching staff, returning veterans and freshmen alike learned from watching film during this week off that keeping control of the ball is a must if the Hoosiers want to keep pace and pull off an upset of their own.
“The turnovers and the mental errors were some of the most painful things the first time we played them,” Crean said. “They’re very good at getting you settled. Getting settled is a recipe for disaster.
“The reason they’re undefeated is because teams were attacking them, and then at some point they stopped attacking them, and I think you’ve got to keep to playing and taking what the game is giving you the entire game.”
Follow reporter Nathan Brown on Twitter @nathan_brown10.