- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 21, 2009

KANSAS CITY, Mo. | Robert Dozier is an unexpected expert on zone defenses.

Not that he particularly wants to be.

The Memphis forward and his teammates look forward to unleashing a freewheeling offense built on slashing, driving, kicking and connecting on open shots. Instead the Tigers are met with a motley assortment of numerical delights - the 3-2, the 1-3-1, the triangle-and-two, the box-and-one.

Get ready to add another one - “15,” the name of the 2-3 zone Maryland likely will unleash in Saturday’s NCAA tournament second-round game at Sprint Center.

“You hate it,” Dozier said. “You want to be able to go out there and show your one-on-one skills, but a lot of teams can’t match up with us man-to-man. We expect them to come out playing zone. That’s what we’ve seen all season.”

Ultimately, it’s not much of a surprise the second-seeded Tigers (32-3) constantly face attempts to slow them down. Yet what is more intriguing is they face a Maryland team far more reliant on a zone than nearly any other Gary Williams-coached bunch recently.

Yet once the calendar turned to 2009, the 10th-seeded Terrapins (21-13) found it a more appealing option. They used it some in the first half against Charlotte and again a week later when Georgia Tech visited Comcast Center.

The defense’s breakout game was Jan. 17, when Florida State could not decipher the Terps’ zone as Maryland rallied in the second half. It remained at the Terps’ disposal, repeatedly helping them remain fresh and pull off victories in the final month of the season - including two this month against N.C. State and another against California on Thursday.

The success by itself isn’t stunning since players can learn and adapt to different schemes. But it’s intriguing that Williams, who as a college player was schooled in the ways of man defense by Henry Iba disciple Bud Millikan, would turn to a zone.

Maryland always practiced an alternate look but hadn’t deployed it nearly this much.

“Last year we didn’t play zone at all,” forward Landon Milbourne said. “We tried it a couple times and it didn’t work at all, so we just threw it away. This year’s been a completely different story.”

Added guard Cliff Tucker: ” ‘They never play zone’ - that’s how it was in the beginning, but that’s our best defense that we’ve been playing all year. Sometimes we start off man, and teams start going inside and going against our big guys, [so] we have to zone up because we have no choice. I think it keeps a lot of teams from going inside.”

It’s undoubtedly the plan Saturday, when Maryland will face a size and athleticism deficiency. And it won’t be the first time Memphis deals with a zone in the tournament after Cal State Northridge wrought havoc with a mix of looks in Thursday’s first round.

Dozier said the Matadors’ zone, based on quickness and denying inside possessions, was perhaps the best Memphis saw all season. In turn, the Tigers emphasized the importance of attacking the basket going forward after escaping the tournament opener with an 81-70 victory.

Still, Memphis understands it can expect to see more of a less-desired scheme against Maryland for obvious reasons.

“If a team plays us man, it’ll be hard to stop us and hard to beat us,” forward Pierre Henderson-Niles said. “If they play zone, they probably have a chance to hang in the game with us.”

Such is the Terps’ likely plan. Memphis made 11 3-pointers in its tournament opener, but sophomore guard Roburt Sallie accounted for 10 of them. Should Sallie not enjoy another career day and the Tigers remain cold, Maryland’s zone could propel its improbable season into another week.

“I think you’ll probably see a lot of zone again [Saturday],” Tucker said. “They don’t have a lot of shooters on the team, but they have a lot of big guys, and they could outrebound us. We’re probably going to have to zone it up a little bit, so hopefully it works well.”

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