The odds of Syracuse
winning it all have improved to 12-1. (That's a pretty significant jump, because
after the way the Orange men stumbled to the regular-season finish line with
four losses in their final five, those odds were probably 100-1 two weeks
And the odds of Jim
Boeheim blowing a gasket this week after being asked about Keith Smart for the
second or third time are 2-1. (OK, I made those odds up but you can bet the SU
coach isn't going to be in any mood to re-live Smart's game-winning shot that
gave Indiana the 1987 championship at the expense of the Orange.)
The Cuse clearly is
playing some of their most inspired basketball in recent weeks, with five wins
in six games since the post-season commenced. But they're going to need to
turn in the type of effort they displayed on January 19, when they knocked off
No. 1 Louisville on the road, if they are going to reach the Elite Eight for a
second consecutive year.
Indiana awaits in a
Sweet 16 game Thursday night in the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., and the
Hoosiers will bring with them the best offense the Orange men have faced all
season. By far.
center Cody Zeller and 6-5 junior guard Victor Oladipo are a pick-your-poison
combo, and with Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls both shooting above 46
percent from beyond the arc, the Hoosiers feature arguably the most balanced and
potent scoring attack in the land. Still, as we learned in their narrow victory
against Temple Sunday, the Hoosiers aren't so dominating that they can't be
stopped by a tenacious defense, and Syracuse certainly boasts one.
The length and
aggression of SU's vaunted 2-3 zone created plenty of havoc in the Orange men's
first two NCAA tournament games, as Montana and Cal combined to make just
8-of-52 three-point shots and turned the ball over frequently. Admittedly, those
teams combined probably couldn't give the Hoosiers a game, but the zone does
cause matchup problems, especially if you aren't used to facing it.
But will it be
On paper, this looks
like a bad matchup for SU. I can see Zeller having a field day against Rakeem
Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita inside. And Oladipo is not only a great scorer;
he's a shutdown defender who could give Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon
Triche all sorts of problems.
For SU to have any
chance of winning, MCW and Triche are going to need to be smart and aggressive.
They are going to have to keep the turnovers to a minimum and attack the
The Orange defense is
going to need to help out Christmas and Keita by sagging back on occasion and
denying Zeller the ball.
James Southerland will
need to have a hot hand from three-land and and he's going to have to help out
on the boards and stay out of foul trouble.
C.J. Fair, the
Baltimore native who will be playing just 45 minutes from where he grew up, will
need to use his height advantage and score early and often like he did against
Cal when he took what was essentially a Bears home crowd out of the
And SU will need to
make at least 70 percent of its free throws. (MCW, by the way, is just 6-for-23
from the line in his last three games. Pathetic.)
Indiana coach Tom Crean
has done a magnificent job restoring the Hoosiers program. He took it over six
years ago when it was in a shambles after NCAA recruiting violations. After
records of 6-25, 10-21 and 12-20, the Hoosiers went 27-9 a year ago and are 29-6
this season. He's somewhat familiar with SU, having faced the Orange twice
during his nine seasons as Marquette's head coach.
Crean's also famous
for being married to the sister of NFL head coaches Jim and John Harbaugh. He
can be a feisty guy, like his brothers-in-law, as evidenced by a post-game
blowup with a Michigan assistant coach a few weeks back.
Boeheim, as we all
know, can be feisty, too.
He lost his team for a
stretch there, when SU lost seven of 12 games while stumbling into the
post-season. But he's clearly found it. And if the Orange were somehow able to
knock off the favored Hoosiers, it would rank as one of the better coaching jobs
of his illustrious career.
columnist Scott Pitoniak has followed SU hoops since the mid-1960s and has
covered them since the mid-1970s. He is author of "Color Him Orange: The Jim
Boeheim Story." You can read more of his stuff at www.scottpitoniak.com.