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.