Ball movement will be key for Indiana as it gets ready to tackle Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)
DAYTON, Ohio -- The principal focus after Indiana's escape from Temple on Sunday was Victor Oladipo knocking down the backbreaking three-pointer with under 15 seconds left. The shot was widely hailed as validation for all of the hard work Oladipo has put in to develop his offensive game.
Less was made of the pass from Cody Zeller, out of a double team in the post, that found Oladipo wide open at the top of the key. Perhaps that's because there wasn't anything particularly special about the pass. Zeller certainly has the capability to find that play, and Oladipo was totally uncovered.
The sequence, though, was bigger than that, because it underscored the way Indiana wants to play, but doesn't always manage to in the halfcourt. Do a Google search for "Indiana" and "ball movement," and the phrase will come up repeatedly in Hoosier game stories and features. They're not a team of slashers, so when they don't play inside-out and move the ball quickly, the offense can get stagnant. With their season squarely on the line, in a game in which they had spells of lazy offense, they did just that.
"We needed to keep the ball moving more offensively [at times]. Play through the post. When we were playing through the post, we were doing great, but the ball needs to move," head coach Tom Crean said afterward. "We're not a team that settles in. It's gotta be flying around and that's when we're at our best."
In the sloping concourse of University of Dayton Arena after the game, Crean expressed his dissatisfaction with some of the way Indiana had attacked Temple, particularly in the homestretch of the first half, when the Hoosiers saw a nine-point lead dissipate. Ball movement stopped, several possessions ended with one pass and a shot, and the Owls ground their way back into the game.
His halftime message to his team was that they needed to get back to the approach that gave them the 20-11 lead to begin with, and that regardless of what approach Temple was taking defensively, the onus was on the Hoosiers to stick with their preferred plan of attack.
"We weren't playing the right way. It's not the first time, it won't be the last," Crean said.
"If it's 5-on-5, just move the ball. Screen, cut, pass it, swing it," he added. "And don't rely on anyone but the body movement and the ball movement to make a play."
Next up is Syracuse, with its famous 2-3 zone and defenders with length and athleticism that tests the ball movement of any team. The Orange zone can be exploited, especially if you have options who can catch and pass in the high post like Indiana does. See what Louisville did in the second half of the Big East title game for an extreme example of how to open the zone up. The approach against a zone is different but, at a base level, Indiana's success still will come from ball movement into the post, this time more often into the high post in the belly of the zone.
Zeller will be a huge component of this approach, and Indiana faithful are hoping his postgame comments are as nonplussed as they were after Oladipo's big shot.
"We set a cross screen and I caught it in the post, and good things happen when we throw it in the post," Zeller said. "There was two of their guys on me, and I just found the open guy."
Sounds simple, right? On nights when Indiana comes close to it for 40 minutes, things usually are just that.