What to Expect: Syracuse

  • 12/02/2013 11:40 am in

In a rematch of last year’s East Regional semifinal, Indiana travels to Syracuse on Tuesday night for the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Syracuse (7-0) is coming off wins over Minnesota, California and Baylor in the Maui Invitational.

The game will be broadcast on ESPN at 7:15 p.m. ET and on the IU radio network (XM 91, Sirius 91):

With no marquee home non-conference game on the schedule, it doesn’t get any better in the pre-Big Ten slate for Indiana than Tuesday’s trip to Syracuse.

The Hoosiers have been tested a couple of times at Assembly Hall and against Connecticut at Madison Square Garden, but going into a true road environment for the first time presents a new set of challenges.

The Carrier Dome, which drew an NCAA-best 426,347 fans last season, will be truly alive for the first time this season after four home games against low major competition for the Orange. The shooting backdrop will provide a much different look for many of IU’s young players who haven’t experienced such a large venue. And the spotlight will be squarely on this game as it tips off a Big Ten-ACC Challenge doubleheader on ESPN that also features Duke vs. Michigan.

We learned plenty about Indiana as it navigated its way to a 6-1 start in November. On Tuesday night in Syracuse, we’ll learn much, much more.


Despite losing Brandon Triche and James Southerland to graduation and Michael Carter-Williams to the NBA, Jim Boeheim has the talent necessary for another Final Four run.

The Orange return several notable contributors from last year’s group that fell to Michigan in Atlanta including C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant and Trevor Cooney and added a freshman point guard in Tyler Ennis who is already performing like a veteran.

The 6-foot-8 Fair, who considered a jump to the NBA before returning for his senior season, is one of four Syracuse players averaging double figures with 18 points per game. His shooting numbers, however, haven’t been great for a player using such a high percentage of his team’s possessions (27.2 percent). Fair is shooting just 47.2 percent on 2s and 33.3 percent on 3s.

Joining Fair in the Syracuse frontcourt are sophomores Jerami Grant and DaJuan Coleman, junior Rakeem Christmas and senior Baye Moussa Keita. Grant, a DeMatha product, comes off the bench but is the team’s third leading scorer at 14.2 points per game. At 6-foot-8 with length and athleticism, Grant is a force on the offensive glass (13.7 OR%).

The 6-foot-9 Christmas hasn’t developed much offensively, but finishes the opportunities he does receive. Christmas is shooting 68.4 percent on 2s. The 6-foot-9, 288 pound Coleman only plays 14.4 minutes per game, but produces when he’s on the floor. He’s taken more free throw attempts (23) than field goal attempts (20) and has an offensive rebounding percentage of 21.5, which would rank third nationally if he had the minutes to qualify. Keita is a rim protector (7.4 block percentage) who adds depth to the frontcourt rotation.

The backcourt rotation includes Cooney, Ennis and┬áMichael Gbinije, a transfer from Duke who has converted from the wing to a ball handler. Cooney, a sophomore who was a fringe rotation guy last season, is now the team’s second leading scorer and best 3-point shooter. He’s hitting 45.7 percent of his 3s and benefits greatly from the playmaking ability of Ennis, who has a team-leading assist rate of 26.3 percent. Ennis isn’t particularly efficient offensively (42.1 eFG%), so when a break down occurs on the perimeter, marking Cooney is the clear priority. Gbinije is also marginal from an efficiency standpoint (45.5 eFG%), but is still adjusting to a position change.



The vaunted 2-3 zone once again awaits Indiana and the turnovers that come as a result are potentially crippling to Indiana’s chances in this game. The Orange rank third nationally in defensive turnover percentage and rarely turn it over themselves. They are, however, allowing opponents to shoot an effective field goal percentage of 53.8, which ranks 282nd nationally.

The sample size is small, but that last stat is a notable difference from a season ago where Syracuse was causing turnovers and also holding teams to an effective field goal percentage of 42.6. If IU can avoid unnecessary turnovers, the numbers so far this season say there are decent looks to be had against the zone.

Like Indiana, Syracuse is a relentless offensive rebounding team. The Orange have more bodies and size in the frontcourt, which makes the importance of blocking out paramount for the Hoosiers. When IU goes to the glass, the 2-3 zone should allow for a fair amount of second chance opportunities as Baylor just rebounded 50 percent of its misses in a 74-67 loss in the Maui Invitational championship.

Free throws also carry a ton of importance for Indiana to perform well offensively without much reliable 3-point shooting. Opponents are shooting 37.7 percent on 3-pointers against Syracuse this season, but Indiana can’t afford to settle from the perimeter and shoot a poor percentage. Working the ball around in the halfcourt and attacking the rim with the purpose of getting to the line gives IU its best chance for success.


For just the second time this season, Indiana enters as the underdog according to Ken Pomeroy as the tempo-free stat guru’s model predicts a 76-69 win for the Orange.

The model for success is fairly straight forward for the Hoosiers as they enter a hostile environment and try to avenge the loss that ended the 2013-2014 season. Indiana must avoid turning over the ball at a rate anywhere near the season average for Syracuse opponents.

Syracuse opponents are turning it over on 26.7 percent of their possessions, which ranks third nationally and speaks to just how difficult the zone is to navigate. Syracuse’s defense hasn’t been great when it doesn’t force a turnover, but Indiana coughed it up on 27.7 percent of its possessions in the Sweet 16 loss and a repeat performance is sure to produce similar results.

Unlike last season, Indiana enters as a decided underdog, but this is a game that Will Sheehey and Yogi Ferrell, like many IU fans, have had circled on their calendars for most of the offseason.

All tempo-free stats via KenPom.com.

Filed to:

  • banarish

    You’re right! but the perspective is much different this time, no?

  • CreamandCrimson

    So losing to a team once gives you a monkey on the back? I’m with you on the Wisconsin thing, they are a giant 400-pound gorilla on our back but I think you have to lose more than 1 or 2 times to put Syracuse in that conversation. Just my opinion though.

  • CreamandCrimson

    We keep saying Austin Etherington is a good shooter. I keep hearing Austin Etherington is a good shooter. You know what has never been proven in a college game? That Austin Etherington is a good shooter. I hope he is (I saw him play in high school but this is 3 years later and a much different game) but I have yet to see proof that he can shoot from deep.

  • guess

    So, if IU had made 3 to 4 jumpers from the elbow/free throw line, we might have won that game . . . that’s a hoot.
    It would have taken a lot more than a few jumpers to turn around that thumping.

  • plane1972

    So, you’re going to judge Crean on the results of one game. That sounds reasonable.

  • NewYorkHoosier

    Guys, this isn’t about Crean’s gameplan against the zone or how he’ll improve from last time. Here’s the thing about the 2-3 zone: it’s not that complicated; it’s simple actually. This isn’t about “figuring out” how to beat the zone. Every coach knows how to do that. It’s getting your players to execute against the zone. Know when to drive, when to kick, where to cut. I think that our players last year knew what to do, but were simply overwhelmed by the athleticism of Syracuse.

    As far as this team goes, IT WILL STRUGGLE WITH THE ZONE. Young teams do. CTC isn’t going to develop a master plan to overcome that inexperience. The way we win this game:

    1) Limiting turnovers (easier said, then done)
    2) Offensive rebounding – The weakness of the 2-3 zone is rebounding position. We rebound well, and need to exploit this in order to win
    3) Using our athleticism to drive to the basket and collapse the zone, draw fouls, get open shots for Yogi and Will, etc.
    It’s not rocket science, but it won’t be easy. Long story short, there is no secret to beating the zone. It’s about execution.

  • CrimsonBill

    Here’s a problem – half of you people are no better than sheep. I love IU hoops more than anything else (don’t tell the wife and kids), and being critical of your coach is part of it. Crean got worked last year vs. Syracuse and its so obvious I don’t get how anyone doubts it. That loss was on him. And it’s on him to fix it – now. Questioning his skill as a coach doesn’t make me disloyal – it makes me a fan.
    But then here comes the snark about how he knows better than us and how’s it his fault and all that. Bull. He doesn’t know more about coaching than I do. And I can say that about a lot of people here. We chose not to become coaches but I’ve been watching hoops with a critical eye since 1986. I’ve coached AAU ball and broken down opponents. Am I always right? Nope, but I’m not paid handsomely to attack a zone correctly. Crean is and it’s not disloyal to say he needs to do a better job.
    You people know deep down he’s never getting us past the Sweet 16. Couldn’t with two Top 4 packs and couldn’t win a title with Wade, who pretty much won the Heat a title before LeBron. We’re second tier until he figures out how to beat Wisconsin and other teams with different styles. A true fan base can demand excellence while still being supportive. And I’ve not yet seen Crean produce an excellent game plan. Not sure if he’s capable of it. He’s too tolerant of turnovers and too worried about tempo and not worried enough about running a possession deep in the shot clock and getting a great look that breaks the back of a defense. That said, he’s a good person I’ve met on several occasions and enjoyed meeting. He’s a decent recruiter and truly tenacious when he sees something he wants. His game planning isn’t there yet and he’s been at this long enough to be better than he is. And, yes, I know enough about basketball to say that.

  • Lance

    which is why CTC should have drawn up some high post plays for SOMEONE ELSE BESIDES CODY or even (gasp) BENCH MR. ZELLER until he gets the message. A coach needs to make adjustments like that and CTC hasn’t shown he’s willing to yet.

  • Lance

    more like because he squandered the best talent and opportunity IU has had in many moons

  • ForeverIU

    Did you try expressing your concerns to him when you met him?

  • CrimsonBill

    No I didn’t. At the time, I was working as a sportswriter and, in that situation, you don’t really worry about yourself as much as your readers. He was nice enough to give me 10 minutes and an exclusive, which was wonderful for a paper of under 10,000 circulation here in Clark County, where the mighty Ohio River doesn’t keep the UK or U of L riff-raff away.
    I’m not knocking the guy at all. He just has to be better – that’s what he demands of his players and what we, as fans and supporters of the University, should demand of him.
    It wasn’t losing to Syracuse last year, so much as it was how…awful we looked doing it. I’ve basically watched every NCAA Tourney since the mid-80s and never have I seen a 1 seed look so clueless and ill-prepared. I’ve seen plenty of 1 seeds lose, sure, but I’ve never seen one look that inept in defeat. And you can say that it’s not Crean’s fault, but Michigan had little trouble scoring on Syracuse and we had handled Michigan twice. It’s not surprising we lost – last years team was built for the Big Ten and I knew they’d struggle with different styles. This is exactly what a coach does, utilizes the personnel at hand in a way that gives his team the best shot at winning. I’m sorry if I feel that Crean didn’t do that.
    My real point is that I constantly read here things along the lines of “I have concerns, but coach knows best.” Or “oh, it’s easy to coach from your recliner.” I can support my team while asking serious questions about recruiting, preparation, substitution patterns, etc.
    Coach is what he is. A good man who took on a tough situation and made it better, but if you think we’re an elite program again, you’re wrong. We’ve come from Northwestern-level bad to, well, about the same level as a Marquette or a Georgetown. Worthy of some hype, and recognizable enough to pop a rating, but never there when it counts (and both those programs are more relevant than Indiana). Until we regularly beat schools like Wisconsin and Syracuse and expect No. 1 seeds and play in Final Fours, were just the Big Ten Marquette.

  • MillaRed

    Because you are a genius right? Say something productive or nothing at all.

  • PDXHoosier

    I really hope we just keep it close

  • Tucson Hoosier

    Forever IU: Best post ever.

  • PDXHoosier

    Somebody needs to step up and make some shots! Anybody!

  • plane1972

    The best talent in many moons in Bloomington did not mean that team was capable of a steamrolling their way through a bad matchup with Syracuse by shear will. Hardly what I would call a squandering of talent. It wasn’t Crean who couldn’t see over taller guards or getting his shot put back in his face time after time. I recall that being Jordy Hulls and Cody Zeller, respectively. No disrespect to either of those guys, but what exactly did you expect Crean to do?

  • Ole Man

    I predict that every IU fan who watches the game tonight will scream at least once to his TV, “Stop dribbling the ball so much, Yogi!”

  • Lance

    I recall Zeller only taking one shot from the key– a chief strategy for busting the zone. So if Z won’t take it, then CTC should have directed him to the bench or draw up a play for someone else to shoot from out there.

    Granted, it’s the talent that plays the game, but if CTC isn’t to be blamed for organizing and steering his ball club to losses, then he doesn’t get credit for their successes either. Actually, it’s a team effort. The players play, and the coaches coach. From my vantage point, I didn’t see CTC adjusting to the reality before him.

    And that was a hallmark of last season. Remember when IU let Illinois steal a game in Champaign? Watford must’ve turned the ball over six times in the second half. Is that CTC’s fault? No, but he left Watford in when the guy is obviously struggling and a drag on the team’s performance.

    It’s those sorts of failures to adjust that allowed the Illini to draw close and led to the humiliation that marked the players for the duration of the season. It was after that loss that I realized we didn’t have what it took to win a national championship in ’13, both on the court and on the sidelines.

  • hoosier1158

    Well if anything, hopefully run some offense before shooting.

  • plane1972

    Those are all fair comments, but what choices did CTC have on the bench if he shows Zeller and Watford to the doghouse? I get what you’re saying, though.