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Indiana zoned in against Syracuse for NCAA Tournament

Updated: March 28, 2013 8:31PM

WASHINGTON — The Big Ten season has prepared Indiana for many styles of play.

The Hoosiers have taken care of teams with explosive guards, such as Michigan’s Trey Burke.

They have squared off against physical forwards, such as Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe. And they have knocked off teams with multiple big men, such as Michigan State’s combo of Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne.

But Indiana hasn’t faced anything like Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone. The Hoosiers (29-6) will get their chance Thursday, when they meet the Orange (28-9) in an East Regional semifinal at about 8:45 p.m. at Verizon Center.

“Their length and athleticism is a thing we haven’t seen that much of this year,” Indiana sophomore forward Cody Zeller said Wednesday. “We have our work cut out for us. Hopefully we can find some gaps in it.”

What’s so special about Syracuse’s zone?

“We’re long and athletic. People don’t really know how to play against our 2-3 zone,” Syracuse freshman forward Jerami Grant said. “They expect it to be a regular 2-3 zone like everyone else plays, but we extend the wings. It will be hard to pick out the open spots in the zone.

“We know all the little things that teams try to do to break the zone. Playing the zone is a plus.”

This is the third time Tom Crean has had to prepare for Syracuse. He went 0-2 against the Orange as Marquette’s coach.

“At Marquette, we didn’t necessarily have the ability to score in the low post that maybe we have now,” Crean said. ‘‘So it was a little bit different attack. We had good guards, people that could make plays, but we didn’t necessarily have the low-post ability.’’

“It allows you to be a little bit more creative. I don’t think you can look at that zone and think you’re going to beat it any one way, but I don’t think you can look at the zone and think you can stand around and pass the ball around the perimeter, either. That is a recipe for defeat.”

Indiana freshman point guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell pointed out that his high school team, Park Tudor, played a 2-3 zone. But this is a little different.

“Visually, it’s going to be very tough to find those openings,” Ferrell said. “I feel like if we move well, we’ll be OK.”

Syracuse looked anything but OK near the end of the Big East regular season, dropping four of its final five games. The regular season ended with a humbling 61-39 loss to Georgetown at the site of the game tonight.

The Orange responded by reaching the Big East tournament final, where Louisville rallied from a 16-point deficit for a 78-61 win.

“It’s easier said than done. They struggled with it in the first half. They got it going in the second half,” Zeller said of the Cardinals’ win. “You have to attack the zone and try to find some openings.”

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