Indiana has taken care of business this season.
The Hoosiers have started with six straight games against teams they should beat and they have defeated all six, including a 76-74 win over St. John's that could be relevant come Selection Sunday in March.
Tonight, the degree of difficulty ratchets up significantly for the Hoosiers, who will head out on the road for the first time in coach Mike Woodson's tenure to play Syracuse in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
The Orange are just 3-3 with losses to Auburn, Colgate and VCU, but they are coming off a Sweet 16 appearance and play a defensive style that has confounded Indiana teams in years past, most notably in the 2013 Sweet 16.
“After our game against Marshall, right when we got in the locker room, the first thing that was on everyone's mind was Syracuse,” Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis said. “The first thing Coach Woodson said was, 'We can't lose at home, but the great teams prepare even harder to win on the road.' It's going to be big for us. It's our first true test and we have to lock in.”
Jackson-Davis exploded in that performance against Marshall on Saturday, pouring in an Assembly Hall-record 43 points on his way to National Player of the Week honors from ESPN's Dick Vitale.
The 2019 Indiana Mr. Basketball has grown into perhaps the team's most important player voice and contended he is ready to pick up his younger teammates in difficult moments on the road.
“You have to think of the road as another game, you can't let the crowd distract you,” Jackson-Davis said. “You have to remember you have your teammates, so I know they're going to lean on me and I have to lead them, and that's something I'm prepared to do. Not everything is going to be sunshine and rainbows, we're going to have some adversity and I'm going to be there for them.”
Under longtime coach Jim Boeheim, Syracuse runs a 2-3 zone defense that will test Indiana's improvement on a significant weakness in recent years: outside shooting.
The Hoosiers are hitting 36.8% from 3-point range while Syracuse is surrendering even more 3-pointers than usual this season – more than 52% of opponent shots against the Orange have been 3s.
“We can't run from it,” Woodson said of Syracuse's defense. “(When I played), I licked my chops when I saw zones because we've always felt when we played here and we went through zones, teams zoned us because they can't play man-to-man.
“I don't know if that is the case, but ... we've just got to go down, and I think we'll be ready to play and see what happens.”
Notes: Indiana guard Rob Phinisee, who has missed the last three games with a leg injury, is questionable to play tonight after practicing “a little bit” Sunday, Woodson said. ... Freshman big man Logan Duncomb will return tonight from his 3-game suspension for violation of team rules.
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.
Records: Indiana (6-0), Syracuse (3-3)
Radio: 92.3 FM