Indiana could never gain any footing whatsoever against Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone. A season-high 19 turnovers and a putrid 33 percent shooting performance brought the 2012-13 season to a close in Washington, DC. As the clock struck midnight on the east coast, the bell tolled for a number-one seed. Indiana fell to Syracuse 61-50, finishing its year at 29-7.
If you’re looking for positives, there were none to be found.
GUARD PLAY WAS GOD AWFUL
For most of the season, the combination of Jordan Hulls and Yogi Ferrell looked like maestros. On Thursday night, they looked like midgets.
Going into the game, there was an acknowledged mismatch in size that appeared problematic. Syracuse would capitalize on the height differential, especially in the second half. It was a big factor in Michael Carter-Williams game-high 24 points.
But the effect at the other end of the floor was greater than expected. The pair failed to register a single point in the game, going a combined 0-8 from the field. The duo also posted more turnovers (six) than assists (four).
For Hulls, you wonder just how much last Sunday’s shoulder injury played a part in offensive woes. For Indiana’s all-time leader in games played, it wasn’t the end that his career deserved. During his four years on campus, he proved those who believed Big Ten basketball was above his ability level wrong. But on Thursday, we was overmatched.
In Ferrell’s young career, it’s the first time I’ve seen him overwhelmed by a situation. I realize that playing top-flight competition in high school or AAU ball compared the spotlight of the Sweet 16 are two completely different things. However, when it’s been winning time in the past, that’s when Yogi has been at his best. And Thursday night was as far from his best as I’ve seen Ferrell.
While Will Sheehey and Remy Abell did offer some quality minutes off the bench, the guard play that Indiana had to have to beat the zone never showed up in the season finale.
OUTMUSCLED MEANS OUSTED FROM THE DANCE
The box score doesn’t necessarily tell you of the difference in physicality in last night’s game. The Hoosiers won the rebounding battle by a board, and collected four more offensive boards. But an inability to finish at the rim can be detected by other numbers.
Syracuse’s superior length led to 10 blocked shots. Not all of those were in the paint, some of those looks were swallowed up by the great wingspan of the Orange on the perimeter. But the Orange won the battle of points in the paint, 30-24, and limited Indiana just nine second chance points on those 12 offensive rebounds.
Cody Zeller’s night was an exercise in frustration. He’d collect a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds, but would go just 3-11 from the floor. Post touches are more than difficult in the sea of arms that is the Boeheim 2-3, which is why putback points were so important. The area around the rim was seemingly guarded by a wall of Orange for Cody, who had his shot attempts blocked on numerous occasions.
Teams that played a half court, physical brand of basketball gave Indiana fits all year. Syracuse doesn’t look very much like a Wisconsin team, and the two teams get to their end results in different ways. But both control tempo and limit possessions. Indiana made 16 field goals on Thursday night. Points were at a premium, and the Hoosiers had only a precious few in defeat.
MORE THAN A HOOSIER STRUGGLE, CREDIT SYRACUSE
Indiana’s issues were caused by a good basketball team. This was a Syracuse squad that won at the overall number one seed in the tournament in Louisville. The Orange were in line for a number-one seed at that time.
They then went in a late-season funk, losing seven of their last twelve. Part of that was due to the six-game absence of James Southerland. Syracuse at one point was ranked third in the country. The Orange found their footing in the Big East tournament, knocking off Pitt and Georgetown. They appeared destined to do the same against Louisville, before giving up a second half lead.
Now in NCAA tournament play, the Orange are giving up an average of 48 points per game. Double-digit steals and blocked shots don’t happen by accident. The Orange took advantage of its biggest advantage as its oversized backcourt scored 38 of 61 total points. Syracuse also converted 15 of 20 free throws.
Yes, the Hoosiers played terribly. But most of that was a direct result as to how well Syracuse performed in victory.
IT’S THE END, BUT FOR HOW MANY OF THE HOOSIERS?
Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, and Derek Elston all wore their Indiana uniforms for the last time last night. Now the question is will Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller join that group?
Oladipo finished with 16 points, making five of six shots from the floor in what could be his final game. He didn’t have much of an impact in other stats as usual, collecting three steals and three boards without an assist. He’s the only Hoosier who turned in a close to standard performance in the loss.
Victor has risen to the top 10 in multiple mock drafts. There’s still a question as to whether he has the shooting ability to play the two guard in the NBA. There’s no question as to what his biggest asset will be, and that’s on defense. His wingspan and speed will make up for the lack of a couple of inches in height.
His work ethic and ability to break down film will also serve him well at the next level. His work in the gym turned a liability into a strength in terms of outside shooting. That sort of individual skill development is generally what turns players into solid pros. It would be hard to imagine Victor returning to Bloomington next year.
For Zeller, the question is a little less clear. His stock had to be hurt by last night’s performance. The major question in projecting Zeller to the next level has always been can he handle stronger players. Last night proves that question to be a valid one.
It’s all about fit at this point for Zeller. For a team that plays a high tempo, and are looking for a mobile big that can run the floor, set high ball-screens and then dive to the basket, Zeller is a perfect fit. If you’re looking for a back-to-the-bakset big man, then he’s still got work to do.
Hoosiers fans have looked at every down performance this season from Zeller and screamed that he’s not ready for the league. When it comes to draft, it’s no longer about being ready for the guys at the top of the charts. It’s all about potential. He’s currently projected as a top 10 pick.
The additional factor for Zeller is how close he is to his degree at Indiana. He likely needs two more semesters to graduate, and that includes course work that could be taken this summer. It’s possible that he stays for one more season, gets his diploma, and then takes a next step.
But even on the heels of a rough finishing act, no one should blame him if he takes the guaranteed cash as a lottery pick and begins the next phase of his career.