WASHINGTON – Yelps of support and echoing applause greeted the voice booming over the loudspeakers Wednesday at the scheduled start of practice for the East Regional’s fourth seed: “Coached by Jim Boeheim, please welcome the Syracuse Orange!”
And … nothing. No sign of Boeheim or any of his players. Not until 6 1/2 minutes later did they finally make their way onto the court they’ll return to tonight to face No. 1 seed Indiana in the NCAA tournament’s round of 16.
Syracuse never really did show up the last time it played a game at this arena: The Orange lost their Big East regular-season finale three weeks ago against host Georgetown 61-39, their fewest points since December 1962 and fourth loss in five games.
“I can’t remember that game,” Boeheim deadpanned Wednesday, face straight and arms crossed. “Just can’t remember.”
Maybe so. But since that disappointing performance, Syracuse (28-9) has gone on a run, winning five of its last six games to reach the Big East tournament final and join Indiana (29-6), No. 2 Miami and No. 3 Marquette to form the only group of 1-4 seeds left in any NCAA region this year.
It’s only the 15th time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 – and first since 2009 – that the four highest seeded teams advanced to the regional semifinals, according to STATS LLC.
“That probably is a little surprising,” Indiana freshman guard Yogi Ferrell said. “It shows that we are all high-level programs, and all great teams, and we know how to win.”
No Florida Gulf Coasts in this crowd, that’s for sure. This is a collection of college basketball’s big boys, with two teams from the Big East, and one each from the Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference. Three of the four have won the national title at least once.
Syracuse will confront Indiana tonight with its 2-3 zone, typically tough for teams that aren’t used to seeing that sort of system.
As Indiana coach Tom Crean put it, “The challenge never ceases.”
“No one plays a 2-3 zone the whole 40 minutes. We’ve never seen that before,” said Ferrell, whose 146 assists (a 4.2 average) are the second-most in history by an Indiana freshman, trailing only Isiah Thomas’ 159 in 1979-80.
“You may think that a pass is there, and it’s not there the next second. You may throw it and get a turnover,” Ferrell said. “Visually it’s going to be very tough to find those openings, but if we move well, we’ll be OK.”
Indiana was ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press preseason poll and spent more weeks at the top spot than anyone else in 2012-13.
The Hoosiers were led in scoring (16.7) and rebounding (8.0) by sophomore forward Cody Zeller. It’s junior guard Victor Oladipo, however, who is the contender for national player of the year honors.
Oladipo averaged 13.6 points and 6.4 rebounds this season and was the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year.
|4:15 p.m.: Miami vs. Marquette|
|4:45 p.m.: Arizona vs. Ohio State|
|6:30 p.m.: Syracuse vs. Indiana|
|6:55 p.m.: La Salle vs. Wichita St.|