Two storied programs will meet up Thursday at the Verizon Center in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament when the fourth- seed Syracuse Orange challenge the top-seed Indiana Hoosiers.
This contest will be a rematch of the 1987 title game when Indiana collected a 74-73 victory on a Keith Smart jumper with five seconds remaining for its fifth and most recent NCAA Tournament title. Syracuse has won the other three matchups all-time. The winner of this game gets to battle either second-seed Miami-Florida or third-seed Marquette in the Elite Eight on Sunday.
Despite a rough shooting night, Syracuse handled 12th-seed California, 66-60 in the third round after roaring past 13th-seed Montana in the second round. Syracuse has really found its stride in the postseason. Since losing four of five games to end the regular season, the Orange have earned wins in five of six contests. Syracuse has made four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year hiatus in 2007 and 2008 and is 10 years removed from its last national title run.
The ninth-seed Temple Owls had Indiana on the ropes in the third round but the Hoosiers ended the contest on a 10-0 run highlighted by a 3-pointer from Victor Oladipo and a big block from Christian Watford. Indiana was certainly more dominant in the second round against James Madison (83-62). The Hoosiers are making their 37th appearance in the event (sixth most all-time) and have a 64-31 record. The Hoosiers have gotten to the Sweet 16 for the second straight season, but just the third time since 1994.
Syracuse led by as many as 14 points and never trailed in the second half against California. The Orange connected on just 39.1 percent of their shots from the field in the contest but got 41 chances from the free-throw line, 26 of which turned into points.
Down the stretch it has been Syracuse's offensive deficiencies that have held it back. Syracuse has failed to score more than 70 points in four of its last five outings, while being held to 41 percent shooting or lower three times. Tough defense has kept the Orange alive though as Jim Boeheim's patented zone has been yielding solid results all season, with the team allowing 59.4 points per game on 37.3 percent shooting. C.J. Fair (14.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg) is the most reliable scorer on the roster, while Brandon Triche (13.8 ppg) has struggled of late. James Southerland (13.7 ppg) is a lethal shooter from any distance and provides a huge boost off the bench. Michael Carter-Williams (11.8 ppg, 7.6 apg, 2.7 spg) is very capable at the point, but his biggest challenge on Thursday may not be the Hoosiers, but pushing aside some understandable personal issues after his Massachusetts home burned down on Saturday.
After Temple's Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson nailed a shot with 4:50 remaining, Indiana took over to rally for the win. The key plays of the contest came when Watford came out of nowhere to deny an easy layup to Anthony Lee that would have kept the Owls ahead by three points with just over two minutes remaining. Just a minute later, after the Hoosiers finally took a lead, Oladipo hit a wide open 3-pointer at the top of the key that swung momentum entirely in the Hoosiers' favor.
The Hoosiers' strength at both ends of the floor this season as made them a team very few opponents can match up with. They are a top-10 team in both scoring (79.5) and field-goal percentage (.486), while holding foes to 62.4 points per game on 39.1 percent shooting. Oladipo (13.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Cody Zeller (16.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg) are each Naismith Player of the Year candidates. Oladipo has been arguably the more important player with his explosive athletic ability and big play-making. Zeller's numbers are solid but he has not looked particularly strong against teams that play tough inside, as was evident at times during the Big Ten schedule and on Sunday against Temple. Watford (12.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg) is another strong scorer for the Hoosiers, while Jordan Hulls, who is listed as probable with a right shoulder injury, has been valuable as a shooter from long range.