When you see the Syracuse vs. Indiana game talked about on social media, it’s usually done as a shot at Tom Crean. If you type in ‘Tom Crean Zone’ on Twitter, these are some of the tweets you’ll see.
The tweets highlighted above are tweets from many years ago, but if you click ‘Latest Tweets’ with that same search query, you get several that were tweeted in 2020.
Immediately after the 61-50 Syracuse victory, I vowed to not watch any ‘highlights’ on Sportscenter and did everything in my power to forget that game. For just about seven years, I’ve been pretty good at avoiding that game.
But then Coronavirus hit & I’ve been quarantined (like the rest of the world) & apparently went mad. I decided to dive into the 2013 infamous matchup to see, “did Tom Crean really mess this game up that bad?”
Before I start, I want to highlight that I was not a Tom Crean fan by the end of his tenure. I was in full support of letting him go, and I still think it was the right decision.
After rewatching this game for the first time in seven years, so much stood out to me. I actually started watching the film with a bias. My thought process was kind of “alright, let’s see what staples Crean didn’t implement that can beat a zone.” And I kept coming up blank. Indiana got good look, after good look, after good look. They made careless turnover that had nothing to do with a zone offense strategy.
Now, you could argue the turnovers were more of a systemic Crean flaw, and I’d probably agree with you. But I’d still argue that this game was not lost because Tom Crean doesn’t know how to beat a zone.
Let’s go to the tape.
In the 1st half, Indiana had 35 offensive possessions. I charted each of them as a ‘good possession’ or ‘bad possession.’ My criteria for a good possession was pretty simple. An Indiana made bucket (or fouled on a shot attempt) or a player taking a shot that they can make at a good percentage. My criteria for a bad possession was a turnover or a bad shot. In the 1st half, I had Indiana having 22 good possessions and 13 bad possessions.
The Hoosiers got the ball to their All America big man in the middle of the floor & allowed him to make decisions from there. They overloaded one side of the floor & dished to the baseline flasher to get great looks. The ball wasn’t stagnant & the players were moving, forcing the zone to move, as well. Again, on 22 of the 35 possessions in the 1st half, the Hoosiers executed and got really good looks. But it only resulted in 22 1st half points.
These certainly weren’t pretty possessions. But there were only a handful that I’d chalk up to “the zone.” Most were just careless mistakes. Which yes, those were a staple of Crean teams, but the 2012-13 team was in the top third of teams in the country in taking care of the ball. They weren’t amazing at it, but they weren’t bad either.
In the 2nd half, the pace slowed a bit, and Indiana had 27 offensive possessions before the game was out of hand (I didn’t add video of the last 4 or 5 offensive possessions because it was essentially ‘garbage time’ and they were trying to score quickly).
Of those 27 offensive possessions, I charted 21 of them as ‘good.’ It seems crazy, but let’s go to the film. (There’s 1 clip of an Oladipo turnover that accidentally made it into ‘The Good).
Again, Indiana got their best players looks where they’re comfortable scoring the ball. That’s exactly what offense is supposed to accomplish. There were only 6 possessions in the entire half where I felt like Indiana didn’t get a good look against the Syracuse zone.
That’s it. I mean, yes, those were bad, but you’re not going to play a flawless half. The Hoosiers actually won the 2nd half by a point.
As stated numerous times, the narrative of this game (for a lot of people) for seven years has been “Tom Crean can’t beat a zone.” I’d argue the narrative should be “IU had a bad start & Cody Zeller wasn’t on his game.”
There’s no denying that the Hoosiers looked awful at the jump. They dug themselves a 17-point hole and had to play catch-up for the rest of the game. It’s tough when you play a team that forces you to slow your tempo a bit. And it did them in.
But what about Cody Zeller? I completely spaced how poor he played in this game. He had numerous good looks where he made himself become about 6’4″ and didn’t go up strong. Ultimately, he ended up 3-11 from the floor. For an All American and a guy that got drafted 4th in that year’s draft, you expect better. But the kid had an off night, it happens.
Compound that with IU’s best sharpshooter, Hulls, going 0-6 from the floor, and it’s a recipe for disaster. It wasn’t for a lack of good looks for Hulls, but he was battling an injury & the length of Syracuse likely bothered him. Similar to Zeller’s numbers, if Hulls just goes 2-6, the outcome of the game may look a little different.
So Was it Really That Bad?
Not in the way social media makes it out to be. I can’t believe I’m here writing a post stanning for Tom Crean in 2020, but the quarantine makes us do weird things. So here I am.
But after watching this game another time, I can’t give the blame to Crean. He got the Hoosiers good looks, they didn’t convert.
Disagree? That’s fine, too. We all see the game different ways, but this is how I see it. Either way, give me a follow on Twitter, @coachadragna.