Dougherty: The Syracuse zone is keeping the madness at bay

first_img Related Stories Schneidman: 4 days in St. Louis define the madness of MarchSyracuse-Gonzaga game time set for 9:40 p.m. on FridaySyracuse basketball keeps dancing to Sweet 16 with 75-50 win over Middle Tennessee StateTyler Roberson is putting all the pieces together at the right timeTyler Lydon’s complete performance helps Syracuse to the Sweet 16 ST. LOUIS — If you’ve mostly been following the NCAA Tournament through highlights and your six social media accounts, the casual way, I can probably guess what you’ve seen.Bronson Koenig’s game-winning corner 3 for Wisconsin. Rex Pflueger’s game-winning tip-in for Notre Dame. Paul Jesperson’s game-winning half-court heave for Northern Iowa. Northern Iowa’s historic collapse on Sunday. A good amount of Buddy Hield. An excessive amount of Charles Barkley.But I can probably also guess something you haven’t seen too much of: Syracuse.“Sometimes our games aren’t the most fun to watch maybe,” said SU guard Frank Howard. “But we have fun no matter what. Winning’s fun.”You can thank the Orange’s 2-3 zone for that, even if Dayton and Middle Tennessee State would much sooner try and get Jim Boeheim’s signature defense outlawed from the game altogether. You can also bet that SU prefers it this way — its wins being boring, nondescript — as its zone smothered the Flyers and Blue Raiders this past weekend and helped it comfortably avoid the madness that’s filled much of the bracket.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textWith a 19-point win over Dayton on Friday and a 25-point win over MTSU on Sunday, 10th-seeded Syracuse (21-13, 9-9 Atlantic Coast) has averaged the fewest opponent points per game (50.5) of any Sweet 16 team and is tied for second in highest average margin of victory (22). It’s not the first time the 2-3 zone has anchored an unlikely Tournament run — start with 2013 — and it certainly won’t be the last. The quick scouting turnarounds for opposing coaches, Boeheim’s ability to modify it on the fly and the Orange’s sheer length make the zone an ideal formula for Tournament success.MORE COVERAGE: Schneidman: 4 days in St. Louis define the madness of MarchSyracuse-Gonzaga game time set for 9:40 p.m. on FridayTyler Roberson is putting all the pieces together at the right timeTyler Lydon’s complete performance helps Syracuse to the Sweet 16Syracuse basketball keeps dancing to Sweet 16 with 75-50 win over Middle Tennessee State Published on March 21, 2016 at 10:19 pm Forget surviving, the zone has Syracuse contending as it prepares for its matchup with 11th-seeded Gonzaga in Chicago on Friday night. Somehow the facet of SU that everyone sees coming makes it hard to prepare for and even harder to beat.“We knew the zone was good but playing live out there against it, they do a good job denying the wings, playing up on wings, they play the middle, their wings are long, their bigs are athletic,” MTSU forward Darnell Harris said after his team shot 29.7 percent from the field Sunday.“It’s like we just couldn’t score over their length and we couldn’t make shots, so it bothered us a lot today.”That is the dilemma that teams, starting with the Bulldogs, have to overcome: the difference between preparing for the zone and then actually playing against it.This seems like a simple concept that could be applied to any facet of the game, but Boeheim and the SU coaching staff tweaks the zone throughout a given game like they’re playing chess with a child. Effortlessly. At will.Dayton wanted to play inside-out through 6-foot-11 center Steve McElvene, and SU denied McElvene the ball to make that near impossible on its way to allowing only 50 points. Middle Tennessee State runs its zone offense from the wing to the corner, and the wings of the zone fanned out to defend passes to the corner and forced the Blue Raiders to consistently drive the ball on its way to 51 points. At times it was Tyler Lydon waiting in the paint, and at others it was Dajuan Coleman. Lydon finished with a career-high six blocks. Coleman finished one below a season-high with two.“Our zone is a little bit different and people aren’t used to seeing our zone,” Boeheim said after Syracuse’s win over Middle Tennessee State. “They see zone, but they don’t see the zone the way these guys play it. So that’s always a little bit of an advantage for us when there’s just a one-day turnaround.”To this point, I’ve consciously avoided all the lame zone wordplays and now need to get them out of my system. Syracuse is forcing its opponents to zone out. Syracuse’s opponents are out of their comfort zones. Syracuse’s opponents can’t escape the O-zone. Man, that last one is bad.And, not to be forgotten, Syracuse is in a zone. Literally, figuratively and at the perfect time.Jesse Dougherty is a Senior Staff Writer at The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at jcdoug01@syr.edu or @dougherty_jesse. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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