In the zone: Syracuse's defense handles No.1 Indiana

In the zone: Syracuse's defense handles No.1 Indiana
March 29, 2013, 1:45 am
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Oladipo: 'We've got a lot to learn from that game'

Syracuse's 2-3 zone matchup zone. Seemingly, every college basketball fan knows this is Jim Boeheim's defense of choice, though they might know why.

The longtime coach explained the origins of his tactical plan after his lengthy team demonstrated its overwhelming and ruthless effectiveness in a 61-50 thrashing over Indiana on Thursday night at the Verizon Center.

The fourth-seeded Orange (29-9) jumped on top of the No. 1 Hoosiers by having their defenders jump into every passing lane, throttle driving forays and stymie shooters near and far. Long-armed and long on energy, Syracuse finished with 12 steals and 10 blocks while holding Indiana to 33.3 percent shooting overall and virtually eliminating leading scorer Cody Zeller's interior presence.

With the backcourt of Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche dominating Indiana's smaller guards, the Big Ten regular season champions shot 3 of 15 from beyond the 3-point arc. Carter-Williams led Syracuse with 24 points and four steals.

One of the nation's highest scoring teams, Indiana tallied its fewest points on the season. For many of the 19,731 inside the arena Georgetown calls home, the Hoosiers seemed fortunate to generate that many.

"Let's face facts," Indiana's coach Tom Crean said. We haven't seen a zone like that."

Outside of the teams on Syracuse's schedule - like Marquette, the opponent in Saturday's East Region final - nobody has.

"Not too many teams are used to our zone," Triche said. "That's what we play. Other teams that play zone, they play man, they switch up defenses, but our main is zone...we're very long and were very active and when we're active like we were today, we're hard to score on."

The reason why Syracuse is synonymous with this unique scheme and tricky variations of it stems from a practical decision the 68-year-old Boeheim made around a decade ago.

"We started out as a man-to-man team with some zone and over the years our zone got better, but we still played man," explained the coach in his 37th season. "The problem when you play man is you have to spend an hour every day on your man defense."

"Finally it dawned on me after 27 or 28 years - it takes me a while - that if we played zone all the time and didn't waste time playing man-to-man and put some wrinkles in the zone because we had more time to practice it, that our defense would be better."

Clearly, practice makes make perfect.

However, Marquette found enough scoring opportunities for a 74-71 home win last month in the only meeting between the two teams. Now Syracuse has a shot at revenge and for the program's first Final Four appearance since winning the national title in 2003.

After closing the regular season with four losses in its last five games, Syracuse has won six of seven.  For seven out of eight, the Orange must win another game on Georgetown's home court - well, not the exact court, but the NCAA Tournament version placed inside the same arena.

"The way they dress it up, it doesn't seem like Georgetown's floor," Triche cracked less than three weeks after Syracuse cracked against its biggest rival, losing the regular season finale 61-39 loss to the Hoyas. "Just to win and be in the Elite Eight, that's all that really matters.