Originally Published: March 28, 2013

Syracuse finds its zone against the Hoosiers

By Andy Katz | ESPN.com


WASHINGTON -- There are no more surprises with Syracuse.

And yet, time after time, teams are fooled by the length of the Orange's zone, the inability to get quality shots or get inside the lane and find openings.

Syracuse has been fallible many times this season, losing seven Big East games. The zone is hardly something that can't be solved. Yet, here was mighty Indiana -- the preseason No. 1 team, the Big Ten outright champion, the one team the selection committee had locked in as a No. 1 seed before selection weekend -- completely flummoxed.

"They were just long and active," Indiana guard Victor Oladipo said. "We just didn't take care of the ball like we should have. In the first half we got a little too anxious, catching the ball, moving out the ball, not having the ball secure in our hands, and our shots weren't falling at the same time."

Jordan Hulls
Win McNamee/Getty ImagesSyracuse swarmed Jordan Hulls and the Hoosiers all night, disrupting their offensive flow.

Indiana was completely outplayed, dominated in the first half like it hadn't been all season. The Hoosiers trailed by 12 at the break, and their 22 points were a season low for any half. And while they did cut the deficit to six at one point in the second half, they never seriously threatened, losing 61-50 and falling in the Sweet 16 for the second-straight season.

Indiana hit season lows in points (50), field goal percentage (34.0) and 3-point FG percentage (20.0) and tied a season high with 19 turnovers. There was zero offensive flow, with Cody Zeller playing like he was 5 feet tall instead of 7.

"I mean, as you can see, at first it looked confused, … slowing the ball down seeing what they could get," said Syracuse senior James Southerland. "We just do a good job of talking out there and recovering if they get penetration, but it's tough. One thing they don't see is how long we are until they approach our zone."

So, now Syracuse is in the Elite Eight against Big East rival Marquette one last time before they jet off to different conferences -- Syracuse to the ACC and Marquette to the new private-school Big East. Indiana heads home, disappointed that it couldn't live up to its own expectations and seize the best chance it has had for a Final Four since the surprising 2002 team that played for the title against Maryland under Mike Davis.

The cruelty of the NCAA tournament is that top seeds get dismissed, and the goodwill they've earned can be tossed aside. Gonzaga had its best season ever in getting a No. 1 seed. But the Zags' second-round loss could cloud the perspective. It shouldn't, but the meaning of March has become a definition of teams of late.

Indiana shouldn't be judged by this one game, either. Still, this stings. It was the fourth-fewest points scored by a 1-seed in the shot-clock era. A terrible disappointment.

"There are not any programs, whether this be Syracuse, Kentucky, Carolina, Duke, you name it that are the blue-blood programs of the country that have had to endure what these guys have had to endure," Indiana coach Tom Crean said of the massive rebuilding job he had to take on after the NCAA sanctions of the previous administration.

"They've got a tremendous basketball team," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who last faced an Indiana team in the NCAA tournament in the 1987 national title game won by the Hoosiers on Keith Smart's shot.

"Tom has rebuilt that program from nothing, and, you know, they're really a good team. I thought we had one advantage at the guard spot with the size, and we were able to take advantage of that."

Cody Zeller
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY SportsIt's a disappointing end for Cody Zeller and an Indiana team that had a Final Four ceiling.

So much that freshman Yogi Ferrell didn't start in the second half. Ferrell finished with zero points, four turnovers and two missed shots. Meanwhile, the taller and much more effective Syracuse perimeter of Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche dominated the position with 24 and 14 points, respectively.

Carter-Williams finished with four steals, too, which as Boeheim pointed out isn't easy to accomplish in a zone. The Hoosiers had 19 turnovers, while the Orange had 12 steals.

"It's not the missed opportunities of scoring that hurt us as much as it did the points off turnovers that turn into live-ball turnovers for them," Crean said. "We did a much better job in the second half, but the first half it got away from us a little bit there.

"There were a couple of times we could have kicked it out, there were a couple of times I thought we would be at the foul line and it didn't happen. They have great length, there is no doubt about it, and you've got to go up and power through it. And at times we did, at times we didn't. At times when we did power through it, we didn't get the bucket, it didn't go in for us at times obviously and it just wasn't meant to be."

The Hoosiers couldn't rely on player of the year candidate Oladipo, either. He scored 16 points and made five of six shots but had as many turnovers (three) as steals (three). Zeller had a disastrous outing, missing eight shots inside.

Boeheim said Zeller got the ball away from the basket, making it easier to force him where he wasn't underneath the basket so they could help on him. The double-teams came quickly, and the Hoosiers never got clean looks, even within a few feet.

Boeheim went into a long but informative answer on the history of his team's zone and how it had played plenty of man-to-man, but it was taking up too much practice time. The decision was made to go exclusively zone. If there were problems with it over the years, then Boeheim would tweak the zone instead of ditching it for man-to-man.

"As the years have evolved, not many teams are playing zone and when they play on or practice against it, it's a false sense of security, because you're not playing against our defense," Boeheim said. "It's much like when Georgetown had Patrick Ewing, you could practice against their 2-3, 1-3-1, anything you wanted, but at the end of the day when you made your play and made your move and you went to shoot it, he blocked it. You get a false sense of security sometimes at practice."

Indiana couldn't simulate the zone. The Hoosiers said the right things Wednesday. They embraced the top seed. They loved being the hunted. But they were slayed rather easily Thursday by a zone and a team that didn't need to trick them in any fashion.

Syracuse didn't hide anything. The Orange were on full display and transparent enough that it was no secret on how they advanced to yet another Elite Eight in this storied program's history.

They didn't fool anyone. They simply beat an opponent yet again with their system by playing it as well as it has been played at any point this season.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer

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