Both the Syracuse Orangemen and the Florida Gators play a 2-3 zone defense. Both teams experienced opposite fortunes this weekend in the NCAA tournament as the Orangemen advanced to the final four while the Gators were manhandled by the Michigan Wolverines. The key to this difference in fortunes is that this type of defense forces a team to attempt 3-point shots.
The Orangemen had the good fortune to be going against the worst 3-point shooting team in the tournament, the Marquette Golden Eagles, and it helped lead to their 79-59 win. Specifically, the three-point shooting of Nik Stauskas helped propel the Wolverines to their first final four in 20 years.
Stauskas scored 22 points in the Wolverines’ win, making six 3-point shots in as many attempts. Five of those and 17 of his points came in the first half.
The fact that Stauskas did the great majority of his work in the opening half doesn’t take anything away from his overall performance. If anything, the fact that he excelled more in the first half makes his performance that much better.
Stauskas’ first half not only set the tone for the rest of the game, but it helped give the Wolverines the kind of breathing room that any other team would dream of against the 2-3 zone. It’s hard to beat a team that plays this defense well if you can’t shoot from the three-point line. If you can, not only is it going to add up on the scoreboard, but it’s a huge momentum-builder too.
The Wolverines started the game on a 13-0 run and continued to build a lead that reached 24 points late in the first half with Stauskas contributing 3-point shots all along the way.
The Orangemen had better study film of Stauskas because this is going to be part of the Wolverines’ strategy next Saturday.
Preparation will be the key on both sides. In the same way the Orangemen won’t be able to rely on the Wolverines shooting horrendously from three-point line, the Wolverines will have to find a way to get inside and make shots. This is something they weren’t particularly crisp at on Sunday, but will have to be if they want to reach the NCAA championship game.