It wasn't easy, and it certainly wasn't always pretty, but the Indiana Hoosiers have landed in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, and will face another one of the sport's blue blood programs in the Syracuse Orange.
Jim Boeheim's balanced squad poses a stern test for the Hoosiers, with their length and athleticism capable of stymieing the Hoosiers' perimeter stars like Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford. In fact, most agree this will be one of the best matchups of the regional semifinal round, and one that will tell us a lot about the Hoosiers' legitimate title chances.
So, how can IU find success (and a berth in the Elite Eight) against a team who spent much of the season camped out in the top 10? If Tom Crean's team can manage these tasks, they stand an excellent chance of coming out of the matchup relatively unscathed.
Punish Syracuse Inside
One of the Orange's biggest weaknesses this season is a lack of a consistent, strong interior presence. Big man Rakeem Christmas has regressed considerably this season, and while Jim Boeheim's squad has plenty of length on the perimeter, they are extremely vulnerable in the post and struggle on the glass.
Fortunately for Hoosier Nation, Tom Crean has one of the most talented big men in the sport at his disposal in the form of sophomore Cody Zeller. The 7'0" center is averaging 16.7 points and 8 rebounds per game, and is a formidable player in the low post. He also has yet to reach his season scoring average in either of the Hoosiers' first two tournament games, scoring 15 points against Temple and 11 against James Madison. If Indiana wants to find success in this one, that must change.
The Hoosiers have a decided advantage in their star big man; if Tom Crean is smart, he'll get him the ball early and often and exploit the undersized Orange's inability to slow post scorers.
Keep Syracuse On the Perimeter
The Orange are a balanced attack, but they suffer from prolonged bouts of ineffectiveness and incompetence on the offensive end of the floor. They thrive when they are able to slash into the lane and create chances, courtesy of guards Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche and forwards James Southerland and C.J. Fair. But, on the flip side, they struggle when you keep them on the perimeter and close driving lanes, daring them to beat you with jump shots.
While Fair and Southerland are both hitting better than 40 percent of their threes this season, the team as a whole shoots just 33 percent from outside, and both of their sharpshooters have been prone to lengthy bouts of ineptitude from the field.
Need proof? Take their third-round win over Cal; the Orange won the game, but there was a 12-minute stretch in the second half where they failed to hit a field goal. Against an explosive offensive team like Indiana, that will result in a hefty loss. The best way for the Hoosiers to ensure similar defensive success is to keep their offense on the perimeter.
Hold Onto the Ball
Syracuse are one of the most athletic teams in the tournament; they thrive forcing turnovers and scoring easy baskets or spot-up threes in transition. While the Hoosiers aren't overly turnover prone, they tend to cough the ball up between 10 and 15 times per game and turn the ball over 19 times per 100 possessions.
Guards Yogi Ferrell and Jordan Hulls cannot afford to have bad games handling the ball; the last thing the Hoosiers want to do is give Syracuse's inconsistent offense easy buckets against them and let the Orange get rolling in transition.
This isn't as crucial to their success as the previous items; the Hoosiers can survive some turnovers in this one given their own athleticism. But avoiding them would be a great way to ensure Tom Crean and his talented team will keep dancing for at least a couple more days.