2013 NCAA Tournament: Syracuse Orange Using Zone to Near Perfection

By Joseph Nardone
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Depending what level of basketball is being played, a zone can be considered a way to hide a team’s inadequacies. Teams with a lot of talent or athleticism will usually implement a man-to-man scheme, so it is somewhat surprising that a program such as the Syracuse Orange have opted to rely on the 2-3 zone for so long.

But the Orange have used the zone throughout the whole Jim Boeheim era. The grumpy ole coach has not only used it as the program’s backbone for defense, but really as a trademark in which the program is known for. Very few teams in the nation are known for a singular quality, nevertheless a defensive one, as much as Syracuse is.

The 2-3 zone in its simplest design is thrown out to force teams to rely on mid-to-long range jumpers. Considering the college level has so few quality jump-shooters, it has resulted in some pretty horrific outings from Orange opponents. Somehow, despite everyone knowing it is coming, Syracuse’s zone has worked out especially well in this NCAA Tournament.

Some of that can be attributed to the poor shooting of foes, but another large factor is the length of Michael Carter-Williams. Williams is a 6’6″ guard who Boeheim has play at the top of the zone. This makes it increasingly difficult for teams to have solid ball movement and more importantly, makes it nearly impossible to get the ball in the middle of the zone–taking away almost all chances to make their offense match-up correctly with the Orange’s defense.

The zone can backfire, however, if a team was to go bonkers from beyond the arc. Really, Syracuse is daring you to take those, therefore, if you make some of them–Syracuse’s zone will have to extend to an unhealthy point making the middle of the zone that much weaker. Still, it requires an opponent to make a ton of jumpers, something that has yet to be done to them in the tournament.

The Orange are going to employ the zone again in the Final Four. Their opponent knows it is coming and there is nothing they can do to stop it (well, outside of hitting jumpers). I guess the term if it ain’t broke don’t fix it has been why Boeheim has relied on the 2-3 zone for decades.

Oh, and it makes for some really ugly basketball. Regardless, the Orange don’t care how they win games as long as they win them. Thanks, zone defense.


Joe is a Senior Writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone

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