Because Running Zone Is For Cowards, But Syracuse Is The Dinosaur That Won't Die

syracuse orange 2-3 zone

At some point early in the second half of the Syracuse vs. Indiana game, while laying up on my coach, I fell asleep. (I may or may not have also drooled on my pillow as well)

Like Nyquil, long lectures and watching any combination of golf/poker/bowling on television, watching the Syracuse Orange(men) play basketball usually has the tendency to put me right to sleep. I mean, it's not like 'Cuse doesn't have some exciting players on the roster. Michael Carter-Williams is truly a (high-yella) sight to behold, James Southerland has range from Buffalo to Schenectady and C.J. Fair has on occasion reminded us of another prolific scoring  forward from Baltimore, and during the Big East conference sked I can usually find some compelling games to watch from time to time.

Unfortunately, Syracuse runs that blasted 2-3 zone defense.

That 2-3 zone defense, the one that Bomani Jones has been known to make fun of by saying "Zone Is For Cowards," has long been the staple of head coach Jim Boeheim. Yet, it's won Boeheim a national championship, (2003) Big East coach of the year four times and won almost 75% of their games. It's hard to say that running that ridiculous 2-3 zone defense is cowardly, when someone has had so much success in doing such a thing. Yet, I 100% agree with Bomani in the stance that running a zone all the damn time is indeed quite cowardly.

Of course, watching the Orange run this zone during the 2013 NCAA tournament, with wins over Montana, Cal and #1 seed Indiana in the process, it's become clear to me that folks have no idea how to actually deal with the 2-3 zone. Montana was overmatched from the beginning in an 81-34 defeat, it looked like Syracuse put in the Game Genie and there was zero chance in hades for Montana to compete with the team from upstate New York. Cal faced the same dilemma, even if they arguably had the best shooter in the Pac-12 in Allen Crabbe, as the Bears struggled to find ways to consistently put pressure on Syracuse's defense.

Then Indiana happened.

Indiana, one of the pristine bluebloods of college basketball, with a team with three potential first-round picks in the upcoming NBA Draft, with a head coach who's made a run to the Final Four before, looked flummoxed for the entire first half of the game. The Hoosiers couldn't get shots off, they made turnover after turnover after turnover, Tom Crean looked like he didn't have a friggin' clue. As I have risen from my mid-evening slumber, I see that Indiana wasn't able to prevail although they played the 'Cuse one-point better in the second half. 61-50 gets Syracuse to the Elite 8.

Because so many teams now run so many defenses, be it from running man-to-man, full court press, traps, to a variety of zone-based schemes, seeing one team run one defense for an entire game seems prehistoric. Watching Syracuse run that fangled 2-3 zone defense feels as out of place as watching a triceratops waddle its way through a suburban neighborhood.

Does that mean Syracuse is destined for another national championship? In my best Lee Corso voice, not so fast my friend. Fact of the matter is, those teams in the Big East are used to seeing that absurd 2-3 zone that Syracuse runs. Syracuse got 8 of their 9 losses from fellow Big East foes, including a 74-71 defeat by the hands of Marquette, who will be their next opponent in the Elite 8 matchup on Saturday.

Is this what we have to hope for with Syracuse and their demise? That a Big East foe will have to potentially take out the Orangemen in the tournament? What about when Syracuse takes their talents to the ACC? How long will it take for those teams to adjust to the long wingspans of the Syracuse defenders, just daring them to take long range shots again and again and again?

Who knows. All I know is for as long as folks struggle to handle Syracuse's zone defense, Jim Boeheim's going to continue rolling that stuff out on the court. His stubbornness has paid off in ways that facing an option offense or a knuckleball pitcher do, they're so few and far between that when you see it, you've got to change everything.

Zone is indeed for cowards, but Boeheim will continue to run it with those talented kids of his. They are the singular dinosaur held over after the ice age came and went. They are the bracket buster you must always account for, because these teams in 2013 seemingly have no idea how to deal with that damned 2-3 zone. Let us pray that Marquette can save us for one more season.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *