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Notebook: IU faces challenge in Syracuse's zone

WASHINGTON – Indiana guard Will Sheehey groaned and said he had already gone over Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense 30 times when third group of reporters surrounded the junior during Wednesday's media access to the locker room

Forgive Sheehey for being a little irritated with having to talk about the No. 1 seed Hoosiers' offensive plan against the No. 4 seed Orange when the teams meet in the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 at 9:45 p.m. Thursday in the Verizon Center.

Sheehey, who averages 9.5 points off the bench, did dutifully answer the question at how hard he thinks it will be to play against the Orange's matchup zone.

"We've never seen anything like it," Sheehey said. "How athletic and long they are really isn't in perspective until you get out on the court with them. We are just trying to dive into as much film as we can.

"They are going to try to make you take tough shots, challenged shots. We just have to do a good job of executing and moving the basketball."

Few teams have found success against the Orange, who have held opponents to 37.3 percent shooting, which ranks No. 3 nationally, and to 28.9 percent three-point shooting, sixth nationally.

Syracuse averages nine steals, which is tied for 14th in the country, and has forced opponents to commit 15.5 turnovers per game.

The Orange also averages 6.1 blocks and utilizes a long starting lineup of 6-foot-4 Brandon Triche, 6-6 Michael Carter-Williams, 6-8 C.J. Fair, 6-8 Jerami Grant and 6-9 Rakeem Christmas.

"I don't think anybody will get any open looks at three on our team a lot, because they are used to going against man-to-man where they can get a lot off of sets and get a lot of open threes," Fair said. "It works in our favor because (the zone) is all we run, and everybody knows their position and we have the right personnel. You worry about your area mainly."

Syracuse's zone can also create optical illusions for opposing offenses. With so many players with long wing spans, it can look like there is no openings against the defense.

"It is going to be tough," Indiana guard Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell said. "You make think that a pass is there, and it is not there the next second. You may throw it and get a turnover. Visually, I know it is going to be very tough to find those openings."

Indiana could have the right weapons to go against Syracuse's zone.

The Hoosiers are third in the nation in offense with 97.5 points per game, and they are one of the top perimeter shooting teams, making 40.8 percent of their three-pointers.

Plus, IU forward Cody Zeller can be used in the high post in the middle of the zone to distribute to Hoosiers cutting to the basketball or who have found an open shot on the outside.

"The challenge never ceases, it's always great because (Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim) recruits – in my mind so that defense he's got great length, there is great foot speed, they cover ground in a short period of time period of time, they move on the pass and not just the catch, there is shot blockers, that come from the wings, the long‑arm guards always create an issue," said IU coach Tom Crean, who is familiar with the Orange's zone from when he coach at Marquette in the Big East.

"At Marquette we didn't necessarily have the ability to score in the low post that maybe we have now. So it was a little bit different attack and we had good guards, people like Jerel McNeal, Wes Matthews, you know Dominic James, Lazar Hayward, so people like that that could make plays but we didn't necessarily have the low post ability. It allows you to be a little bit more creative. I don't think you can look at that zone and think you're going to beat it any one way but I don't think you can look at the zone and think you can stand around and pass the ball around the perimeter, either, that is a recipe for defeat.

"We've got to be solid with what we do, assertive and aggressive and we've got to have a lot of ability to adjust and change against it."

Ready to go

Indiana guards Jordan Hulls and Sheehey were not in the best of shape after Sunday's third-round win over Temple in Dayton.

Hulls injured his right shoulder and had to wear a protective brace and a bandage to play in the second half against the Owls.

Sheehey was knocked in the head late in the game and wasn't available for the last few minutes.

But both players said they are fine now.

"Shoulder is good, once it got loose, I was able to shoot well," said Hulls, who didn't wear any protective padding or wrap during the open practice Wednesday at the Verizon Center. "The doctors are doing a great job of getting me back in shape, feeling good."

Sheehey said: "I'm feeling ready to go. A lot of ice and different things with rehab and stuff, but I'm shooting the ball well."

Getting the offense going

Syracuse's defense is one of the best in the country, but its offense is a different story.

The Orange average 71.5 points, but they have also been held under 60 points nine times this year.

Syracuse's worst offensive game came in the Verizon Center when it fell 61-39 to Georgetown on March 9.

"I think during the course of 35 games you're going to have a bad game or two," Boeheim said. "We just happened to have our bad game at the end of the year. It could be in the middle where you get beat. All the teams in this tournament had a bad game, whether it was Kansas at TCU or Duke at Miami, you name it. Every team has had a bad game during the course of a year or two or three, whatever. That has no relevance to anything else.

"Our defense has been consistent all year. We haven't shot the ball in some games and that's hurt us in the games we have lost, but in the nine losses, I think the worst team we played was Temple. I think at one point in the season they were the lowest rated – I don't think they were the worst – but they were the lowest rated team in the RPI and they are probably in the top 50 now, so I don't think we lost to anybody that was below the top 50, and I'm not sure how many teams can say that.

"We had a good year. I think one of the weaknesses that we had was we didn't shoot the ball particularly well in three or four, probably five of those games, or six. We played better in the postseason because we shot better, basically."

Syracuse opened the NCAA tournament with an 81-34 win over Montana and a 66-60 win over California.