GAME PREVIEW: Indiana Travels to Syracuse in ACC / Big Ten Challenge

Noah Spirek

Tonight, the Indiana Hoosiers (6-0) will leave Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall for the first time this season, and head to the Carrier Dome as they get set to take on the Syracuse Orange (3-3) in the ACC / Big Ten Challenge.

To this point, Indiana is off to its best start in years, sitting at 6-0 in their first season under Head Coach Mike Woodson. However, this will be their toughest test thus far, as they visit a 3-3 Syracuse team that is looking to find its footing here early in the season. Tonight could prove to be historic, as Syracuse Head Coach Jim Boeheim has never opened a season 3-4 (or worse) in his 46 years as head coach.

Indiana has taken care of business to reach their perfect 6-0 record, as they were heavy favorites in each game so far. So far for the Hoosiers, their strength-of-schedule ranks 322nd among 350 Division One teams, according to KenPom. Syracuse has played a much harsher schedule, as they rank 117th in SOS. The 3-3 record of the Orange is a disappointment, however, as they have struggled on the defensive end of the floor in losses to Colgate, VCU, and Auburn.

Tonight, Indiana will look to rebound the basketball over the Orange and make their three-point attempts. Coming off a career-high 43 points, Hoosier star forward Trayce Jackson-Davis will be key to picking apart Syracuse’s patented 2-3 zone. Expect an abundance of focus from the Orange to be placed on stopping “TJD”, which will likely leave Hoosiers open outside of the arc. For Indiana to win this game, they need to hit their threes. IU has not yet eclipsed 10 threes made in a game this season, and against the zone, they will likely need to reach that number to find success. Additionally, Syracuse has struggled mightily against physical man-to-man defense in each of their losses, so look for the Hoosiers to play that way tonight.

On the other side, this is a huge game for Syracuse. Coming into the season, it was known that Syracuse would be a strong offensive team, but there were questions surrounding the team’s defensive ability. Those two narratives have proven to be correct, as Syracuse is 21st in the nation in offensive efficiency, and 156th in defensive efficiency (KenPom). The Orange have a severe lack of athleticism, which has hurt the effectiveness of the 2-3 zone defense that Hall of Fame Coach Boeheim is notorious for. For Syracuse to win this game, they will need to keep the rebounding battle close against a very physical team in the Hoosiers, and they need to keep center Jesse Edwards out of foul trouble, who is tasked with contesting Hoosier forwards Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson.

It should be a good game throughout, as both teams need this win for their tournament aspirations. For Indiana, it is a “prove-it” game to show that the 6-0 start is not just a product of an easy schedule, as they are right on the cusp of being nationally ranked in the AP poll. For Syracuse, this is a must-win game for their confidence moving forward as they hope to find their way here early in the season. The season is far from over, but this feels like a “gotta have it” game.

KenPom predicts a 74-73 Indiana win. Personally, I predict a 75-70 Orange win.

Tune in at 7pm on ESPN2 to see how it plays out.