The Syracuse Orange are going to the Final Four, and they’re going there because of their defense. Just two days after holding the Indiana Hoosiers, owners of one of the most potent offenses in the country, to 50 points in their Sweet 16 victory, the Orange limited their Big East rival Marquette Golden Eagles to score just 39 points to win the East Region and advance to the Final Four, ten years after Syracuse’s last trip to the Final Four, which ended with a national championship.
The Syracuse defense, in Jim Boeheim‘s patented 2-3 zone, has been consistently good all season, but they have taken it to another level during the NCAA tournament. In Syracuse’s four tournament games, opposing teams have averaged 46 points per game, with just one team scoring more than 50 points. Even teams like Indiana and Montana, known for their perimeter shooting abilities, were completely stifled by Syracuse’s zone. It was more of the same Saturday, as Marquette made just three of 24 three-point attempts. Even with 14 offensive rebounds, the Golden Eagles could only muster 39 points.
Syracuse boasts incredible size, length, and athleticism in their zone defense, as well as the knowledge of how to use it and manipulate their opponents into taking challenged shots and low-percentage shots. As a result, the same Marquette team that scored 74 points and shot 42% against in a win over Syracuse a little over a month ago, shot just 23% against the Orange on Saturday. Even the Golden Eagles, a team that’s familiar with Syracuse’s zone and should have had as good a chance as anybody to understand it and dissect it, were completely helpless against it and unable to have any kind of success against it.
Even judging by the standards of a program that has been to the Sweet 16 or further in four of the last five years, this Syracuse defense is special. They have carried the team all season, while a mediocre offense does its best not to lose games as it did with a multitude of turnovers in the Big East Tournament final. But in the past four games, the Syracuse defense has risen to a level far better than even Boeheim could have hoped for. The Orange have suffocated opponent after opponent with its zone defense, a defense that has brought Syracuse back to the Final Four; and if the next two games are anything like the last four games, it’s a defense that could deliver to Syracuse another national championship.
Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com. He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer. Follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him to your network on Google+.