Credit: Syracuse Athletics

First IU basketball road trip includes tricky matchup against Syracuse

The Hoosiers are 6-0 and have aced all of their tests in the early part of the season. They will look to pass their biggest yet as they take on Syracuse in their first road trip of the season at one of college basketball’s toughest venues.

The Carrier Dome has a max listed capacity of 34,616 people for basketball. The largest crowd in attendance included 35,642 people. That is more than double the size of Indiana’s Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall’s 17,222 capacity. And when the Dome is filled with a sea of crazy fans decked in blue and orange in the Ozone– the Syracuse student section– it will be hard to hear anything. Let alone think.

“I’ve never played there, but I know it’s going to be an electric crowd. They’re going to get rowdy.” Trayce Jackson-Davis said of the atmosphere.

At its loudest, the Carrier Dome eats teams up and spits them out.  And by the time a visiting team knows what has hit them they have missed a plethora of shots and committed too many turnovers.

Indiana followed that script on its home court on Saturday.  The turnovers started early when Xavier Johnson– who has experienced the Dome three times as a player for Pitt–threw a pass out of bounds. But when the Hoosiers found themselves down 12-points with 9 turnovers in the first half against Marshall, Jackson-Davis was chattering to his teammates on the bench. He was urging them to pick up their play and not harp on their mistakes.

The motivation–along with Jackson-Davis’s 43-points– helped the team snap out of a funk and play their brand of basketball. They ended the game with 15 turnovers but just 6 after falling in the 12-point first half hole. As a junior and team captain, Jackson-Davis knows his teammates look to him for leadership.  And if things get sideways at Syracuse, he is ready to jump in once again.

“Whenever they’re struggling, I’m going to pick them up because not everything’s going to be sunshine and rainbows.  We’re gonna have some adversity and so I’m gonna be there for them,” he said.

Offensively, Syracuse boasts an attack that has no trouble putting the ball in the basket. They average 78.7 points per game and convert on 38.1 percent of their shots from outside the arc, which ranks 70th and 46th nationally. All five of their starters are also averaging double figures in scoring.

The team is led by the Boeheim brothers– who are also the sons of the legendary head coach Jim Boeheim. Buddy is the leading scorer on the team and averages 20 per game. He is the heart of the offense and their main shot creator. When he’s hot, so is the rest of the team. His brother, Jimmy, is a sharpshooter who averages 12.3 points per game while shooting 46.2% from the arc.

Behind them are Joseph Girard (13.8 PPG; 56.3% 3-FG), Cole Swider (12.5 PPG), and Jesse Edwards (11.8 PPG). The Hoosiers will have their hands full defensively.

“All of them can score the basketball, so we’re going to have matchups all over the floor where you can’t take Tuesday off. I mean, everybody has to come ready to play defensively from a man-to-man standpoint and be ready to help from a team standpoint defensively,” said head coach Mike Woodson.

Defensively, the Orange will run the same defense that they have for the past 46 years under coach Boeheim: the 2-3 zone.

The tenacious zone defense has puzzled and stifled offenses for most of Boeheim’s prestigious coaching career and helped lead him to a national title in 2003 with Carmelo Anthony. However, there have been many weak spots in the signature Syracuse zone this season.

Although the Orange are scoring at a high clip, they have also allowed nearly as many points with 77.2 per game. They allowed Colgate to reach triple-digit scoring with 100 points in their season opener and allowed 89 and 84 points to Auburn and Arizona State, respectively.  According to KenPom, Syracuse ranks just No. 158 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency.

Perhaps concerned they don’t have the elite rim protectors they are known for, Syracuse has caused teams to fire three-pointers on 51 percent of their offensive possessions. Teams have been making them pay by connecting on 37.4 percent of their shots behind the arc for an average of 12.3 threes a game. Woodson wants to see everyone on the team take advantage of that when the opportunities present.

“Look, hey, we’re going against a two-three zone. That’s what it is. Yes, we got to make shots,” said Woodson. “You’ve got to make shots out on the perimeter, and you’ve got to make shots inside.”

“Hell, if you got an outside shot that’s makeable, shoot it, and let’s see if you can put it in the hole for us.”

Woodson would not reveal how he planned to attack the zone specifically. You’ll have to wait until the Hoosiers take on the Orange at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Tuesday on ESPN2.

“I know we’ve got to make shots,” Woodson said.  “I know we’ve got to make some plays inside with the basketball. Only time will tell. We just have to wait until we get to the game and see where we are with it.”

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