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Syracuse faces team with ‘no weakness’

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WASHINGTON — Indiana presents as many questions for Syracuse as the Orange do for the Hoosiers heading into tonight’s NCAA East Region Sweet 16 showdown at the Verizon Center.

The top-seeded Hoosiers have played plenty of talented teams in the Big Ten and beyond, but none quite like No. 4 Syracuse, according to coach Tom Crean.

“They are unique in that Jim (Boeheim) plays only one defense all the time, and recruits kids who fit into that defense,” Crean said Wednesday. “He gets long, athletic forwards who can cover a lot of ground, big guards who are difficult to shoot over, and just great reactors to the ball.”

SU’s Boeheim said top-seeded Indiana brings a skill set to the game unlike most of the teams the Orange faced this season.

“They can hurt you inside or out, on the perimeter or on the low block, in transition or in the half court, and are one of the outstanding man-to-man defensive teams in the country,” was Boeheim’s assessment of Indiana. “They really have no weakness, and you can’t say that about more than one or two teams in the country.”

Crean has some perspective on the Orange from his nine years (1999-2008) as the head man at Marquette. He went 0-2 vs. the Orange, but those teams annually gave SU as much trouble as any team in the Big East with their aggressive style and all-out hustle despite being less talented.

“Those Marquette teams didn’t have the ability to score in the low post like this (Indiana) team does,” Crean said. “We had to be a little more creative in those days, and find different ways to attack the zone. I’ll tell you one thing, though. If you just pass the ball around the outside (the zone), that’s a recipe for disaster.”

Crean has an abundance of shooters on a team that ranks fourth in the country in 3-point field goal percentage (41 percent). Christian Wadfrord, a 6-foot-9 forward, is the top sharp-shooter at 48 percent, followed by guard Jordan Hulls (46), forward/guard Victor Oladipo (43) and forward Will Sheehey (38).

“With that many shooters, it puts a premium on us to communicate and talk a lot,” said SU senior Brandon Triche. “They can really shoot from any position, so the zone must really be active and moving quickly.”

Add in 7-foot sophomore Cody Zeller, who shoots 57 percent from the field, and you have a dynamic inside-outside combination that figures to test SU’s defensive abilities.

“They’ve got great all-around talent, no doubt,” said SU senior forward James Southerland. “Every time I turned on ESPN it seemed like they were on. But we’ve faced a lot of tough challenges this year and we look forward to taking on another.”

While Indiana, which averages nearly 80 points per game, will try to boost the tempo and get its high-powered transition game into gear, the Hoosiers know that the Orange can hurt them with their offensive talent.

“It’s without a doubt one of the most talented offensive teams we’ve faced,” said Oladipo, the Big 10 Defensive Player of the year. “I liken them to Michigan, with wing guys who can shoot or get to the basket, and guards with a lot of offensive capabilities. And their big guys really came through in the Big East Tournament and the first two NCAA games.”

SU found its offensive rhythm in New York at the Big East Tournament, making more shots and doing the things that helped the Orange to an 18-1 start to the season.

“In the five or six games we shot poorly, we lost,” Boeheim said. “In the other games, we shot well enough to win. Because our defense has been so consistent, we didn’t need to have big scoring games at times. But vs. Indiana, you’d better be able to score or you have no chance.”

Triche said since the humiliating Georgetown 22-point loss here “we’ve had a sense of urgency that our season and careers are coming to an end. Things have been so much more positive the last few weeks.”

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