A lot has been made about the Syracuse Orange and their 2-3 zone. Mind you, Jim Boeheim‘s zone defense has been around since the time of dinosaurs, but it has proved to be one of the biggest stars of this NCAA Tournament nevertheless. Opponents have failed to crack the middle of the zone and has been forced to hurl bad shots towards the basket from 20 feet away.
All of that results in a low field goal percentage and a better chance for the Orange to win.
Yet, there is another star for the Orange who is not an inanimate object — Michael Carter-Williams. The sophomore is known for being tall and adding versatility to his team. Standing 6-foot-6 while playing both guard positions has proven to be one of the strengths of this Syracuse team.
On the season Williams averaged 12 points, five boards and seven assists per game. However, his biggest impact might be his defense — even more precisely, the length that he brings to the 2-3 zone.
An opponent’s primary goal while trying to defuse the zone is to get the ball to the middle of the floor. It sounds so simple, yet, teams have not been able to do so against the Orange in the tournament.
Talk about ball movement or defensive rotations all you want, but it is much simpler than that. Williams eats up so much space with his length that, even if the zone was to be extended, his area of the zone eats up more ground than the fallout zone of a nuclear impact.
When the Michigan Wolverines face off against the Orange, they will be tasked with hitting jumpers, which they might ultimately do. Syracuse, however, will still prevent them from getting the ball to the free-throw line or let Michigan penetrate from the top of the circle. This in turn makes opponents much more one-dimensional, and will force Michigan to react to the defense rather than push their style of play on the Orange.
Whatever efficiency problems Williams might have on the offensive side of the ball are all but voided by his defensive play. Michigan is going to have to figure a way out to prevent Williams to be allowed to play or force the Orange to extend the zone further than it has been all tournament.
If not, we can be in for another ugly basketball game. Thank you, zone defenses.
Joe is a Senior Writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone