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Coaches weigh in on attacking the Syracuse zone
Question of the Day
Anyone expecting the defense to look like it would if drawn up on a greaseboard _ two, evenly spaced guards up top and three evenly spaced big men down low _ will not recognize this 2-3.
“They’re not just standing around giving up shots and hoping the other guy misses,” said John Rhodes, an assistant at Duquense.
To counter-attack, Rhodes and the rest of the coaches interviewed by AP said an offense must work the ball inside _ first to the high post, hoping two defenders will collapse and create a mismatch elsewhere, then down deep on the baseline, almost behind the basket, an awkward spot from which to get to the hoop.
“The high post guy either has to turn and shoot if he’s open, or turn and look down to the baseline, or get the ball out to the wings,” Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said.
Pilipovich said getting a man on the low post to set ball screens for the ballhandler _ a counterintuitive notion against a zone because there’s not always someone to pick off _ is also a must for breaking it down.
“You’ve got to try to outnumber them on the perimeter, three against two,” he said. “Problem is, they’re very good at sliding under screens so they can take that away from you.”
Indeed, it is Syracuse’s length _ guard Michael Carter-Williams is 6-foot-6 and Brandon Triche is 6-4 _ that makes the Orange so difficult to break down. Hard to see over them. Hard to pass around them. They’re averaging six blocks and 11 steals a game in the tournament, almost unfathomable numbers for a zone defense.
Coaches also talk a lot about dribbling into the middle of the defense to break it down, but because of their wingspan, it’s hard to dribble past them.
“He recruits to it,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said of Boeheim. “He’s got guards who are 6-5, 6-6. I have a feeling no matter what defense you put them in, they’d be pretty effective, because they’re so athletic.”
Chris Crutchfield, an assistant for Oklahoma, works for Lon Kruger, who is considered one of the top tacticians in the game.
“We talked about that before we left,” Crutchfield said. “I don’t know how you do it.”
One obvious problem, Crutchfield says, is that teams don’t see the zone all that much during the season, so they don’t practice for it. Then, when they do _ well, it’s hard to make it look like Syracuse’s zone.
“You don’t have the athletes they have to simulate it,” he said. “You can practice against it, you can talk about putting the ball in certain places, but you can’t simulate that. So, now, the gaps that you’ve seen in practice, you’re not going to see them because they cover up all those gaps. It’s really unbelievable.”
One team that did have some success this season was Louisville. The Cardinals went 2-1 against Syracuse in 2013. In their 78-61 win in the Big East tournament, they shot 40 percent _ not great, but still better than any of Boeheim’s last seven opponents.
Rick Pitino’s strategy was to set up two men opposite each other on the high post and throw the ball into one of them. The other post man cuts to the hoop. The man with the ball then either looks to that cutter, or if that man is covered, throws to a guard who should be spotted up open in the opposite corner.
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