RTC is reporting from the East Region semifinals in Washington, DC, this weekend.
- The Syracuse Zone Just Shut Down the Nation’s Best Offense. According to KenPom, Indiana came into today with a 122.8 offensive rating, the best in the country. IU also averaged 78.6 points per game this year, a statistic that put the Hoosiers among the top handful of teams in college basketball. This evening? At the 10:00-minute mark in the second half, the Hoosiers had a total of 37 points, marking the third straight game that the Orange had held an NCAA Tournament team (Montana and Cal) in the 30s or below. The fact of the matter is that no team, not even one the quality of Indiana, can adequately prepare for the albatross-long arms of the Syracuse zone and the athleticism of their interior people. Every shot within the arc was contested — the Orange ended up with 11 blocks — and the great equalizer of the three-point shot was cut off as well — IU shot 3-of-15, including an oh-fer from Jordan Hulls.
- Cody Zeller Was Exposed. We noticed this during last weekend’s Temple game as well, but Zeller has trouble finishing plays inside against long and athletic forwards. This shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone, as it’s as elementary a concept as there is in college basketball — it’s difficult to score over long athletes. But Zeller has a tendency to make himself smaller by contorting his body so that it’s parallel with the ground, and even when he goes straight up to the rim, it hasn’t been with authority. Syracuse blocked or got a piece of six of Zeller’s misses tonight, and you had better believe that NBA scouts will be reviewing the tape of his last two games in particular to get a better sense of whether Zeller has the toughness and the explosiveness to finish at the rim in a league where everyone is a long athlete.
- Bad Syracuse Only Made a Brief Appearance. If Syracuse is to win three more games to give Jim Boeheim his second national title, they’ll obviously have to keep playing exceptional defense in the same way that they did tonight. The recurring issue with this team has been what might endearingly be called “losing their minds” for large stretches of games. We saw it in the final three minutes of the California game last weekend, where the Orange blew a comfortable late lead to give the Bears a chance. We’ve seen it multiple other times this season as well. Except for a very brief stretch in the early part of the second half tonight, though, the Orange avoided that particular calamity here — MCW only had a single turnover, and while Brandon Triche (six) and CJ Fair (four) had way too many of the team total of 15, there weren’t enough of them in a row to give Indiana the lift it needed to make a substantial run. The closest the game ever got in the second half was a six-point margin at 38-32, but a layup on the other end allowed the Orange to race right back out to a quick double-figure lead. Bad Syracuse probably only appeared for a couple minutes tonight, and the team will need to keep it under wraps in order to push to the Final Four and beyond.
Star of the Game. Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse. Given that his family has been dealing with a tragic fire at their home in the Boston area this week, it was a reasonable question to ask whether MCW would be fully focused on the game tonight. Needless to say, he seemed more locked in than he has for most of the season, scoring 24 points, grabbing six rebounds and four steals, but most importantly, only committing a single turnover. When MCW is on his game, Syracuse is very tough to beat.