The Indiana Hoosiers fell to the Syracuse Orange in the Sweet 16 of the 2013 NCAA Tournament. While most of us believed that Indiana was a likely member of this years Final Four, we all knew that anything can happen in March Madness.
When the brackets played out, the Indiana vs Syracuse matchup peaked my interest right away. I have probably watched these two teams play more than anyone this year. I knew the ins and outs of their schemes. I knew that Indiana’s game revolved around Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller, Yogi Ferrell, Jordan Hulls. and Christian Watford. They would play physical Big Ten basketball and dominate the inside. Their three point specialists would prey on open looks caused by double teams on Zeller and Oladipo.
Syracuse would have a different approach. They would play fast. They would look for C.J. Fair to lead the charge. He would drive to the basket and create shots. Michael Carter-Williams would distribute the ball and find James Southerland or Brandon Triche while eyes were locked on Fair. They would shove a zone defense right into the face of Indiana.
Jim Boeheim and Tom Crean would have their troops ready for battle, both knowing what the other would do next. Their would know the ins and outs of the opposition. One team was ready to play last night, and the other looked lost.
Tom Crean’s Indiana Hoosiers looked lost in their 61-50 loss to Syracuse. There were times in the first half where the team had more turnovers than points. Victor Oladiop looked winded, as if he did not expect to have to push the tempo against the Orange. Cody Zeller struggled and Hulls was a non factor. At the half, Indiana’s stat line read like this: 7-19 from the floor, 1-7 from downtown, 11 turnovers and 22 points.
With days to prepare for the game, you would think that Crean would have had the answers. He would put his pawns in the right places for Boeheim’s zone. Instead, Crean and his Hoosiers chose a nice game of checkers on Boeheim’s chess board. While Indiana took the “king me” approach, Syracuse smiled and said, “Check Mate.”
The most unbelievable part of last nights loss was Crean’s team not being ready. After a season where Crean generally had his team ready for play, they could not see when the bright lights of the big stage turned on. It’s not like Syracuse had superior talent. The Hoosiers had just as much if not more than the Orange. The difference was coaching, discipline, and hustle. Crean’s offense was no match for Boeheim’s zone. Try as they might, Oladipo and Zeller could not out hustle Syracuse.
Some may argue that Indiana played better in the second half. That I am being harsh on the Hoosiers. Yes, they scored more frequently in the second half. However, their second half could not compensate for the embarrassing first half that they put together. It is, after all, a 40 minute game. Indiana never got the memo.
This was supposed to be the year that Indiana won their first NCAA Championship since the Bobby Knight Era ended. Instead, it’s the year they let a title slip away by not showing up, not preparing. Maybe they took Syracuse lightly. Maybe they started to buy into the media hype surrounding them. It’s not inconceivable that they believed that Big Ten basketball was invincible, as many of us did. Whatever the reason, Indiana killed themselves last night, and not the quick and painless type of death. This one will linger for months, maybe longer.
Then again, maybe we saw something that was never really there. Maybe we hyped The Big Ten conference and the Hoosiers along with it. Maybe we saw a glimpse of the future, a team on the cusp of greatness. Maybe we witnessed opportunity missed. To quote Andrew Carnegie, “You can’t push anyone up the ladder unless he is ready to climb himself.”