Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls Can Add to Their Hoosier Legacies This WeekendPosted by Deepak Jayanti on March 28th, 2013
Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of RTC. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.
It is no secret that the Hoosiers won the Big Ten title and secured a #1 seed because of their two star players, Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo. Oladipo proved to any casual hoops fan last weekend that he is arguably the best player in the country by drilling a three to push the Hoosiers past an inspired Temple team. Tonight, the legendary Syracuse 2-3 zone defense will focus on preventing Zeller from receiving the ball in the high post and Oladipo from getting past the initial layer of defense to split the zone. It is almost insulting to call Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls as “X-factors” against Syracuse but if they can combine for close to 25 points, the Hoosiers shouldn’t have any trouble beating the Orange.
Watford’s block of Anthony Lee’s dunk attempt last weekend was overshadowed by Oladipo’s subsequent three but it set the stage for the final possession against Temple. There aren’t many “stretch” power forwards in the game who can challenge the zone like Watford. Tom Crean may use Watford to feed the ball into the high post from the wing because he has the size and length to pass over Michael Carter-Williams, and if the zone collapses on the catch, then Watford is open to drill a three (48% 3FG). The 2-3 zone also lets opposing teams dominate the offensive glass as Syracuse ranked 13th in the Big East in opponents’ offensive rebounding (36.2%). Watford will have plenty of opportunities to crash the boards through the backdoor and pick up some easy buckets there as well. The key to beating the zone is to be patient and smart with shot selection and this is the time when Watford’s combination of tools and experience should pay off.
Speaking of shot selection, Hulls has not been effective on the offensive end for the last eight games, averaging just over 5.0 PPG during that span. Under the assumption that he has recovered from the Temple game where he had to leave for a few minutes due to an injury, he may be due for an offensive explosion against Syracuse. If Zeller can be patient with the ball in the high post and kick it out to the wings on a double team, there is no better shooting guard in the country than Hulls to knock down the long-range shot (46% 3FG). Defenders such as James Southerland and C.J.Fair have the wingspans to challenge shorter shooters like Hulls but his lightning-quick release can serve to mitigate that advantage. All Hulls needs to do is hit a couple of early open looks from beyond the arc which will help the Hoosiers’ offense gain some confidence against the zone. Like Watford, Hulls can help the offense stay patient, avoid frustration, and most importantly, remain calm during tough stretches of the game.
Both of the seniors have enjoyed great success over the last two seasons but they too struggled with Crean though the rebuilding times in Bloomington. Watford’s game-winning shot against Kentucky last season unofficially kick-started the school’s “comeback” into the national spotlight and Hulls’ shooting stroke has given the IU faithful hope since the day he first wore Crimson. The next few days will only add to their individual legacies if they can get to the Final Four but it starts with the game this evening against Syracuse. Regardless of the final result, their careers will be deemed a huge success, but they both certainly have something left in the tank to push further into March Madness.