It was 39 seconds into the game when I realized Syracuse was going to beat Indiana and there was nothing the Hoosiers could do about it. Michael Carter-Williams made of all things a Princeton-style cut, a staple of Georgetown’s offense on the Hoyas’ home court, and posted Yogi Ferrell. I can’t remember the 6’6” Carter-Williams ever posting up before. SU had a massive size advantage, at PG, SG and SF, and knew it. In the middle of a busy restaurant I screamed, “Holy $#%&, they’re gonna win this thing.” And then the Orange did.
There’s only one other time I can remember SU abusing a team like this recently when it had a size advantage: UConn last season. Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright are excellent guards, just as Ferrell and Jordan Hulls are, but neither is taller than 6’1”. Last year SU had the 6’3” Scoop Jardine with 6’4” Brandon Triche and Dion Waiters, both of whom are extremely strong. This year keep Triche and sub in the 6’6” MCW, and Ferrell and Hulls never had a chance.
The concern with smaller guards on Carter-Williams is they’ll rip him, but Ferrell was never able to get into MCW. Eventually Tom Crean switched Victor Oladipo onto MCW causing a mini heart-attack but Triche was able to capitalize as the ball was smartly put in his hands. That also took Ferrell off the floor which isn’t great for IU’s offense. It was also impossible for Crean to take both Hulls and Ferrell off the floor at the same time meaning one of them was getting picked on.
There wasn’t anything Indiana could do unless it went zone. You can’t grow in the middle of a game. I am surprised that Crean never went zone considering how mightly SU has struggled against it. The man-to-man basically shut James Southerland down. Do you try your luck with Southerland shooting over the lilliputian guards at the top of your zone or try and make MCW and Triche beat you driving? After seeing the first half, I would’ve given the former an attempt. IU stuck to its gameplan and the SU guards were more than happy to oblige with an assault on the rim.
That was only one end of the floor, though. The unpreparedness of Indiana for Syracuse’s zone was downright astounding. Crean is a good coach, but that was pathetic.
Indiana didn’t adjust for how long Syracuse was. You can practice against a zone and use brooms to try and simulate it, but you don’t realize how much space this team covers until you play it. Like many teams, the Hoosiers struggled early. Unlike successful teams against the Orange, they never adjusted. They weren’t lost like the GPS is re-routing. They were lost like the GPS blew up on their dashboard.
On top of the length was the quickness SU has both inside and outside. On the perimeter SU gets into passing lanes and Ferrell was a mess. On the inside Cody Zeller was thoroughly dismantled. Every time he thought he had his man beat, the help would come and he’d try to power through it. And fail. Miserably. Again. And again. And again.
You hesitate to call a guy soft and really Zeller wasn’t. He tried hard. He was just overmatched. The length exposed his lack of athleticism and the quickness overwhelmed him. He continually failed to account for the next guy coming. With SU’s zone it’s always coming. It sets you up to block you and Zeller got duped from start to finish.
What makes this all the more shocking is Crean used to coach in the Big East for a decade and saw this thing every year. Perhaps this is as glaring an indication as any that the zone changes not only from year-to-year but game-to-game. This isn’t the zone you learned in 5th grade. Boeheim’s zones are as unique as they come and change based on the personnel and system their playing. The design against Indiana was in a word perfect.
Sometimes basketball is a simple game. Size matters. Toughness matters. If you’ve got those two things going for you and you hit a few shots, you’re going to win. C.J. Fair was the toughest player on the floor. Syracuse was bigger at every position but center, where the rest of the size on the front line more than made up for it. The Orange used its size to hit shots, while using that size to make Indiana’s attempts at doing so difficult at a minimum. Simple game.
Sometimes we spend 40 minutes analyzing every detail. Sometimes the overwhelming truth smacks you in the face 40 seconds in. Back to the Elite 8 for Jim Boeheim’s Orange.
Posted: Craig Hoffman