Syracuse's defensive masterpiece against Indiana in the Sweet 16 was one of the most impressive performances in tournament history.
I realize that is bordering upon (Bill) Walton-ion hyperbole, but the Orange's stifling, suffocating, well-oiled machine of a 2-3 zone left me as giddy as a school girl on a pony. Or something like that.
The No. 1 seeded Hoosiers entered the game with the most efficient offense in America. They ranked first in points per possession (since dropped to second, you'll soon see why) and first in Ken Pomeroy's tempo-free offensive rankings.
And they couldn't do diddly poo offensively.
Cody Zeller, the supposed best big man in the country, looked like a walk-on, completely frustrated by Syracuse's athletes in middle. He missed eight of his 11 shots, with a staggering five of those coming via blocked shot.
Victor Oladipo wasn't able to get into transition, where he is so dangerous. Christian Watford, Jordan Hulls and Will Sheehey couldn't find any clean looks outside. Not even Yogi Ferrell's quickness, penetration and vision worked.
Syracuse was simply too good. Its length, athleticism and lightning quick rotations covered too much of the court, and Indiana never looked comfortable.
It was almost hard to watch—in a way that a scene with Michael Scott talking in public is hard to watch—the Hoosiers' complete inability to even swing the ball or get something that resembled a clean look. They looked like the crappy, slower, less talented evil twin of the team that tore up the best conference in America on a nightly basis.
In the end, Tom Crean's offensive powerhouse finished with 50 points, 17 turnovers and just 0.765 points per possession.
By comparison, the Hoosiers' previous season-low was 0.894 against Wisconsin. Essentially, in an average 65-possession game, they were nearly nine points worse than they've been all year.
Call it revenge for 1987. Take that, Keith Smart.
It was complete and utter domination by the Orange, and it wasn't anything new.
In the second round against Montana, a team that ranked in the top 30 in America in effective field-goal percentage, the Orange allowed 34 points and a minuscule 0.495 points per possession, a truly unfathomable number.
Against Cal, a team with one of the best backcourts in America, the Orange allowed just 60 points and 0.857 points per possession.
Throw it all together, and Jim Boeheim's squad has absolutely steamrolled its way to the Elite Eight on the back of a defense that has given up just 144 points on exactly 200 possessions. That's 0.72 PPP, a historically-good number.
It's a good thing, too, because the offense has been average.
In their two wins over Cal and Indiana, the Orange have averaged 14.5 turnovers and 0.955 points per possession. Those numbers aren't nearly as ugly as they were during Syracuse's 1-4 stretch in the regular season, but they suggest defense is the primary reason for the dominant victories.
If the Orange continue to frustrate opposing offenses at this inconceivable clip, they will prove that defense does, in fact, win championships.
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