Two of the most prolific college basketball programs in the country are set to do battle in the Sweet 16, as the No. 1 seed Indiana Hoosiers take on the fourth-seeded Syracuse Orange.
Both squads squeaked by Round 3 with six-point victories and definitely didn't play their best basketball, but the cream of the crop always finds a way to rise to the occasion in March. With several days off in between to more adequately prepare, the quality of this game should organically improve.
These two have history very significant to the NCAA tournament, and ESPN Stats & Info points out the recent dominance by the Orange:
Syracuse: won last 3 meetings vs Indiana since loss in 1987 NCAA title game— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 28, 2013
Here is a breakdown of the key developments to watch for on Thursday evening in this East regional clash in the Verizon Center.
The Fight to Control the Paint
Cody Zeller leads the Hoosiers' high-octane offense in scoring, and C.J. Fair does the same for Syracuse's more methodical attack. Both can spread the floor with their mid-range games, but the difference may boil down to who is more aggressive in the lane.
When the Hoosiers are on defense, it will be Zeller who will have to be the enforcer—a role he struggles with due to his occasional reluctance to get physical. Against the likes of Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita, though, he will have to be.
Keita got to the line 10 times in the last game, and may impose his will on Zeller should he log big minutes again.
The Orange can be an overwhelming swarm in zone, and Indiana's chances of winning largely depend upon how well Zeller can pass out of the post and how effectively he can crash the glass.
Athletic swing man James Southerland is an X-factor once again. The Hoosiers' Christian Watford has the defensive ability to neutralize Southerland, but will be preoccupied helping Zeller out on the inside and chasing Fair for much of the game.
Three-Point Shooting Disparity—or Lack Thereof
It's no secret that the Hoosiers have the big advantage here, and they should get a lot of looks in the half-court as the Orange look to take away Zeller on the inside.
Tom Crean's squad shoots three-pointers at a 40.8 percent clip, as star guard Victor Oladipo, Watford and Jordan Hulls especially are all capable of filling it up from beyond the arc.
Per NCAA.com, Syracuse ranks sixth in the nation in defending the three-point shot at a staggering percentage of 28.9.
Meanwhile, the only consistent threat to get it done from the outside for the Orange is Southerland. Although, Fair can also stroke it from deep, he rarely ventures out there.
Something obviously has to give here. If the Hoosiers are knocking down their shots early, this could get away from the Orange. That's because this bunch has had a tendency to implode at times, such as in the Big East conference tournament final when they got outscored by Louisville by 30 in the second half.
However, don't expect Jim Boeheim's team to go away quietly. This hard-nosed Syracuse team has been through much adversity this season and isn't likely to be blown off the floor by a three-point shooting barrage.
If the margin in this area isn't too disparate, the game likely tilts heavily in the Orange's favor.
Which Team Will Control the Pace?
This is certainly a contrast of styles. Syracuse does have the athletes to get it done on the fast break, but it prefers to execute in half-court sets. Meanwhile, the Hoosiers are fully capable of playing up-tempo and scoring in transition.
In order for Indiana to establish its shooters early, the pace should be pushed as much as possible. Should the Orange's signature 2-3 zone have time to get set, the challenge may be too much for the Hoosiers to overcome.
What is the more likely outcome in terms of pace of the game?
On the other hand, ceaseless execution on offense will allow the Orange to easily get set on the defensive end, which would be bad news for Indiana despite its outstanding offensive efficiency.
Michael Carter-Williams will be crucial to the cause. When he takes good shots and plays more of a distributor's role, the Orange are tough to beat. Sometimes, though, he presses the issue and looks for his own offense too frequently.
Against California in the third round, Carter-Williams had five turnovers and three assists and attacked the paint but sank just four of his nine free-throw attempts. The Orange went 12 minutes without a field goal at one point, too.
The tendency Carter-Williams has to cough it up—combined with the exceptional perimeter defense that Hoosiers freshman counterpart Yogi Ferrell is capable of playing—makes Indiana's transition game that much more dangerous.
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