Syracuse shuts downs Indiana at both ends of the floor

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Syracuse was not supposed to be in the Elite Eight. Not with No. 1-seed Indiana, not on a court in which they were blown out by 22 points less than a month ago. But thanks to a career-high 24 points from Michael Carter-Williams, the Syracuse Orange advanced to the Elite Eight with a 61-50 win over the Hoosiers on Thursday night.

Syracuse’s patented 2-3 zone gave the Hoosiers fits, as Indiana finished just 16-for-48 from the field and 3-for-15 from beyond the arc. Heading into the contest the key match-up top watch for was how Indiana would combat Syracuse’s length on the perimeter, both offensively and defensively. It took less than 20 minutes to figure out that Indiana didn’t have many answers on either end of the court. By the end of the game, Yogi Ferrell failed to score any points, had just one assist and committed four turnovers. Jordan Hulls didn’t fare much better. He too finished with zero points, but dished out three assists to just two turnovers.

But Indiana’s struggles were not exactly their fault. Much of their demise can be credited to the play of Syracuse, who as a team finished with 10 blocks and 12 steals.

The way to beat a 2-3 zone is by inserting the ball into the high-post, then either a quick pass to the wing or down to the low block. Syracuse’s length forced Indiana to make inaccurate entry passes, and the Orange’s size down low was too much for Cody Zeller to deal with. This was one of the few times all season where he looked vulnerable. He struggled with high-percentage shots and had difficulty going up strong against the big Syracuse front line.

Jim Boeheim was extremely pleased with the way his role-players were able to stymie the Hoosiers’ frontcourt. “I thought Baye (Moussa-Keita) was tremendous and (Jerami) Grant made an unbelievable block. He gave us a plus 8 in 10 minutes he had an unbelievable block on Sheehey, those are the contributions that you have to have and he gave them to us tonight.”

From the opening tip Indiana looked tentative against the length Syracuse had on defense. “They were just long and active. We just didn’t take care of the ball like we should have,” said Victor Oladipo, who finished with a team-high 16 points. “In the first half we got a little too anxious, catching the ball, moving out the ball, not having the ball secure in our hands, and our shots weren’t falling at the same time.”

Syracuse made Indiana feel uncomfortable all night long. The Hoosiers struggled to handle the ball, we’re hesitant to finish strong around the basket and became gun-shy once they realized their shots weren’t falling.

Syracuse’s James Southerland knew Indiana would have issues with their zone. “At first they looked confused, slowing the ball down seeing what they could get. We just do the a good job of talking out there and recovering if they get penetration, but it’s tough. One thing they don’t see is how long we are until they approach our zone.”

But it wasn’t just the Orange’s length on defense that gave Indiana trouble. The Orange ran their fast break to perfection, and used their size advantage on offense. The length and size of Syracuse’s guards made it difficult for Indiana to match-up defensively. Jordy Hull, at 6-foot-1, was not athletic enough to guard Brandon Triche, who at 6-foot-4, was the smallest player for the Orange on Thursday. “We felt like we had an advantage size wise finishing at the rim and that’s what we did,” said Triche, who finished with 14 points on 6-for-12 shooting.

Much of the Orange’s offensive game plan was focused on isolating Victor Oladipo and having the off-ball players go to the basket. When Oladipo guarded Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche exploited the defense. When he covered Triche, Carter-Williams did the same.

“Victor is a very good defender and through the first half he was pretty much guarding James, so Mike had a field day against the basket and I also contributed a few points,” said Triche. “Once he started guarding Mike, I felt like I had an advantage and once he got off Mike know, I felt like he had an advantage shooting but he also scored points on him well. We just did a great job getting into the lane and getting them in foul trouble.”

Carter-Williams had his best game in an Orange uniform, scoring a career-high 24 points and added five steals and four rebounds. The 6-foot-6 guard was too much for the undersized Indiana defense to handle.

Boeheim knew that Carter-Williams would be the difference-maker on offense, and was more than pleased with the result. “This was the best he’s played all year. He was tremendous tonight, he was the difference in the game on offense, clearly.”

With the win, the Orange are just one game away from a spot in the Final Four. But they will have to defeat a Marquette team that exposed the Orange’s zone early in the year en route to a 74-71 victory. The No. 3-seed Golden Eagles will face off against the No. 4-seed Orange on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at the Verizon Center in the East Regional Finals.

You can contact Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir.

Roach scores 20 as Texas beats No. 8 Texas Tech 67-58

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AUSTIN, Texas — Kerwin Roach II scored 20 points in a surprise return to the lineup and Texas got another home win over a Top 25 opponent in a week, beating No. 8 Texas Tech 67-58 Wednesday night.

Roach, who had missed the previous two games with a fracture in his left, non-shooting hand, was expected to miss a few more. But he suited up for pregame warmups and was cleared to play right before tipoff.

Roach gave the Longhorns a new threat both inside and out with his 3-point shooting and aggressive drives to the basket. The Longhorns — who beat then-No. 16 TCU 99-98 in double-overtime last Wednesday — also played their best defense in weeks, anchored by freshman center Mo Bamba under the basket. Bamba had 15 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks.

Texas (12-6, 2/3 Big 12) led by 13 early in the second half before the Red Raiders rallied to get within four. But the Longhorns got two big 3-pointers by Eric Davis, Jr., including one with 3:28 left that pushed the lead back to 10.

Jarrett Culver scored 16 points to lead Texas Tech (15-3, 4-2).

BIG PICTURE

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are having their best season in years and second-year coach Chris Beard has the program contending for the Big 12 title. But they missed a chance to pick up an important road win and dropped their 22nd consecutive game in Austin. The Red Raiders haven’t beaten Texas in Austin since 1996, when both programs were in the old Southwest Conference.

Texas: The Longhorns will get a shot of confidence in an inconsistent season with another big win. Most of all the Longhorns showed they can protect a big lead, even if just barely. Texas let a double-digit second half lead get away in a crushing road loss at Oklahoma State last week.

UP NEXT

Texas Tech plays at Iowa State

Texas plays at No. 6 West Virginia

SMU lands massive résumé win at No. 7 Wichita State

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It’s too strong to say that SMU saved their season on Wednesday night.

The Mustangs already own a neutral court win over No. 14 Arizona. They also knocked off USC, Boise State and UCF, all of which will be varying degrees of “good win” come Selection Sunday. That loss to Northern Iowa doesn’t look good today, and it’s hard to imagine losses to Tulane and Temple – the latter of which came at home – are going to age gracefully, but in a year where it seems like everyone is mediocre at best, a marquee win combined with a stable of solid résumé wins could end up being enough.

That said, on Wednesday, SMU sure went a long way towards making sure they won’t have to sweat out the bracket reveal, as the Mustangs went into Koch Arena and knocked off No. 7 Wichita State, 83-78. The win snapped a three-game losing streak for SMU.

The star of the show was Shake Milton. A player that has had NBA hype for what seems like the better part of a decade, Milton had a career-high 33 points on Wednesday night, the best game of his career in what has been a breakout junior season. He did it on 11-for-14 shooting, making 5-for-6 from three and outdueling fellow NBA Draft prospect Landry Shamet, who finished with 20 points and 10 assists.

SMU now has two elite wins to pin at the top of the tournament profile – both of which came away from home – and it affords them a bit of breathing room as they matriculate through American play.

This win isn’t just a big deal for SMU.

It matters for the American has a whole as well.

Heading into today, it looked like the conference was trending towards getting just two bids to the Big Dance – Wichita State and Cincinnati – and that, in turn, created a problem for everyone else in the conference. If there are only two good teams in the league then there are only two teams that American bubble dwellers can beat and improve their résumé. We won’t know how much this affects SMU’s computer numbers until they update, but it is safe to assume that a win over a team that is top 20 in both the RPI and KenPom will help significantly. Entering Tuesday, SMU was rated 83rd in the RPI.

Assuming that Jarrey Foster’s knee sprain doesn’t turn out to be serious – he left the game after six minutes and did not return – than this day could not have possibly gone better for the Mustangs.

On the other hand, it does raise some questions about this Wichita State team.

Specifically defensively.

As we noted earlier today, Wichita’s defense hasn’t exactly been great this season. They entered today ranked outside the top 25 in defensive efficiency, and the return of Markis McDuffie, who has yet to return to the starting lineup, has not exactly helped matters.

But it really came to a head on Wednesday night. SMU scored 83 points on 60 possessions, or 1.383 points-per-possession, which is the worst ass-kicking that the Shockers have received under Gregg Marshall, who has been employed by the school for a decade. The only time anyone came close to that involved Doug McDermott going for 41 points and shooting 15-for-18 from the floor.

And that game came on the road.

I wrote a column earlier this season wondering whether or not we could start discussing Wichita State as potentially the best team in the country. That column was predicated on the idea that the Shockers were going to be one of the nation’s best defensive teams.

Because they always are.

During this six-year run of consecutive NCAA tournaments, the Shockers have never finished lower than 26th in defensive efficiency. The last four years they’ve finished in the top 15, and that is despite playing in the Missouri Valley. (KenPom adjusts his efficiency numbers for opponent strength.)

Wichita State was 26th entering today.

They’re now 55th.

Only two teams have ever reached a national title game with a lower defensive efficiency.

This is a problem that badly needs fixing, but if McDuffie wasn’t the answer, is there one?

Texas Tech honors Andrew Jones before game against Texas

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Texas Tech became the latest team to show support towards Texas sophomore Andrew Jones, who was diagnosed with leukemia last week.

The Red Raiders are facing the Longhorns on Wednesday as they wore shooting shirts with Jones’ No. 1 and name on the back, joining Oklahoma State as recent opponents to show support.

So far, over $104,000 has been raised in just over five days for the Andrew Jones and Family Support Fund, which has been started by the University of Texas to help the family pay for medical expenses.

No. 1 Villanova leads by 44, beats Ewing, Georgetown 88-56

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WASHINGTON — Top-ranked Villanova led by as many as 44 points — 44! — and gave Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing a rude welcome back to the schools’ rivalry, handing the Hoyas their worst loss in more than 40 years, 88-56 on Wednesday night.

Jalen Brunson led the way with 18 points and seven assists for Villanova (17-1, 5-1 Big East), which finished 17 for 33 on 3s, while Georgetown went 4 for 15.

Mikal Bridges scored 17 for the Wildcats, winners of seven consecutive games against the Hoyas, Villanova’s longest streak in a series that dates to 1922.

The last time Ewing faced Villanova in any capacity was in the last game of his college playing career at Georgetown, a surprising 66-64 victory for the underdog Wildcats in the 1985 NCAA championship game. It was quite clear, quite quickly, on Wednesday that there would be no such tight outcome —nor any chance of an upset by Georgetown (12-6, 2-5).

This is Ewing’s first season as a head coach at any level, and he opted to go with an easy-as-can-be non-conference schedule to try to build his players’ confidence. Now that league play is underway, especially against a foe like Villanova, the gap between the Hoyas and the best teams is obvious.

It was 42-20 at halftime, and Georgetown to that point had more turnovers (nine) than made baskets, shooting 8 for 26, including 0 for 8 on 3s.

Villanova just kept pushing the margin after the break, going up by 30, then 40, and then reaching the apex at 88-44 on a layup by Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree with about 3½ minutes remaining. Less than a minute later, Villanova coach Jay Wright finally sent on the subs and pulled any remaining starters.

INJURED AND ILL

Villanova: Reserves Tim Delaney and Jermaine Samuels sat out with a virus.

Georgetown: Backup PG Trey Dickerson left in the first half with a back spasm and did not return.

BIG PICTURE

Villanova: Since its only loss, 101-93 at Butler on Dec. 30, Villanova has won four games in a row, propelled by an efficient offense that gets a lot of its work done from beyond the arc.

Georgetown: This was the Hoyas’ largest margin of defeat since a 33-point loss to Maryland, 104-71, on Dec. 10, 1974.

UP NEXT

Villanova: Travels to UConn on Saturday in a matchup between former Big East rivals and the Wildcats’ first game at Hartford in five years. Villanova is 12-0 in non-conference games heading into the last one on their schedule.

Georgetown: Hosts St. John’s on Saturday, the teams’ second meeting in less than two weeks. The Hoyas won 69-66 at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 9

NCAA pushes up college hoops start date as Champions Classic will open the season

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The NCAA is pushing up the start of the college basketball regular season to begin on the Tuesday before the second Friday in November.

That means the Champions Classic will open the college basketball season in 2018-19 as announced in an official release on Wednesday. So now, we get Duke vs. Kentucky and Michigan State vs. Kansas in Indianapolis at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to open the college basketball regular season?

Yes, please.

This is a very smart move for the NCAA as men’s and women’s basketball can now open the regular season a bit earlier. The made-for-TV, neutral-court spectacle of the Champions Classic is also the perfect programming to get casual sports fans to tune in for the opening night of college basketball.

There will also be a new level of intrigue for the Champions Classic with all four superpowers making their season debuts in the event next season. Instead of getting a regular-season tune-up to begin to campaign, all of these teams will get thrown straight into the fire.

Hopefully, the sport can continue to make moves like this to generate casual interest and develop more intriguing non-conference possibilities. College basketball’s regular season has suffered from too many lulls in the past. At least now the regular season will start with a bang.