Tom Crean will have the most interesting coaching decision of the Sweet 16 on his hands heading into tonight’s matchup with No. 4 seed Syracuse.
How will he matchup with the Orange on the perimeter?
Syracuse is as big and has as much length up and down their roster as any team in the country. Michael Carter-Williams, the Orange point guard, is 6-foot-6 with the wingspan of a pterodactyl. Starting off-guard Brandon Triche is 6-foot-4, as is Trevor Cooney, who is the first back court player off the bench. That’s before you get to their front court, where 6-foot-8 James Southerland plays the three while CJ Fair and Jerami Grant, who are both lanky, 6-foot-8 athletes, also man one of the wings in the Syracuse zone.
Well, their starting back court consists of 6-foot Jordy Hulls, 6-foot Yogi Ferrell and 6-foot-4 Victor Oladipo.
Now, this will obviously create issues on the offensive end of the floor. The length that Syracuse is able to employ in that zone is going to make it difficult to get a clean look at a three, something that the Hoosiers are going to have to rely on if they want to win this game. But it’s also going to make it a nightmare to try and get the ball into the high-post. The way to break down the Syracuse zone is to get the ball into the high-post, whether via the dribble or the pass, and find either Cody Zeller at the rim or one of the myriad of shooters Indiana will have on the perimeter. Can the Indiana guards feed the high-post with all of those arms between them and Christian Watford? Will they be able to pass out of the zone if they are able to penetrate to the foul line? Ironically enough, the ability of IU’s back court to penetrate the zone with the dribble may be more important given the fact that Watford is not exactly known as a great passer.
Those are concerns, but they may not be the biggest concern for Tom Crean.
The issue is going to be on the defensive end of the floor. The ideal would be for Oladipo, one of the best on-ball defenders in the country who also has the length and athleticism to matchup with Carter-Williams, to matchup with the Syracuse point guard to try and take away his effectiveness in the half court. But if Hulls and Ferrell are both on the floor, that would mean that one of those two would be stuck guarding Southerland or Fair or one of Syracuse’s other forwards. That’s a matchup that cannot happen.
The obvious answer? Play Will Sheehey and Remy Abell more minutes, but that creates a problem on the offensive end of the floor. Hulls is the zone-buster, one of the best catch-and-shoot players in the country. He doesn’t miss. Ferrell is easily Indiana’s best penetrator, the guy that can split the top of that 2-3 zone and break down the defense. Indiana’s effectiveness against a zone on the offensive end of the floor will take a hit with either of those two sitting out.
So what will Tom Crean do?
Does he play a 2-3 zone of his own?
Will he slide Oladipo onto Southerland and hope that Hulls and Ferrell can matchup with Triche and Carter-Williams?
Does he role the dice on rotating his little guards?
How Tom Crean handles the size differential may be determine the outcome of this game.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.