Syracuse Basketball: Breaking Down the 'Cuse Half-Court Offense

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistFebruary 28, 2012

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 11:  Head coach Jim Boeheim of the Syracuse Orange talks with his players during a timeout against the Villanova Wildcats at the Wells Fargo Center on January 11, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
Chris Chambers/Getty Images

The 2011-2012 Syracuse basketball squad is tremendously long and athletic, so Jim Boeheim's crew likes to fast break when the opportunity presents itself.

But when the tempo slows down and the game is a half-court battle, the Orange have had varying degrees of success.

When they're executing the high-ball screen offense and the dribble-drive motion crisply, they're extremely difficult to defend. When they rely on isolation and don't maintain good spacing, they get into slumps.

Because they're an athletic and veteran team, Boeheim gives the guards plenty of liberty to freelance throughout the game. However, the team does stick to a loose structure.

Let's take a look at a few of Syracuse's basic sets.


The High-Ball Screen

Syracuse relies heavily on high ball screens, especially when Dion Waiters or Scoop Jardine have the ball at the top of the key.

Fab Melo (No. 4 in this particular diagram) comes up high to set the screen, and the guard usually dribbles toward the side with two players instead of one. Melo rolls to the hoop, and the opposite side wing player (often Kris Joseph) rotates up to the top of the key.

The guard then reads the defense and has the option to take the ball all the way to the rim, dump it to Melo or kick it back out to one of the rotating guards.

How much do the Orange like this formation? During Saturday's Connecticut game, Syracuse ran approximately 23 plays that included a high-ball screen of some sort, and they were successful more often than not. Sometimes, they even set a staggered double-screen for the ball-handler.

Syracuse's Basic High Ball-Screen Setup
Syracuse's Basic High Ball-Screen Setup

Melo is usually the on-ball screener, and C.J. Fair often accompanies him when a double-screen is being set. 

This high-ball screen set has varied from game to game, depending on what defense is thrown at them. But it's generally been Boeheim's most successful half-court set this season.


Isolation and Dribble-Drive Motion

Syracuse also runs quite a bit of dribble-drive offense, when one player drives to the paint and the rest shift around the perimeter.

The key to this offense is keeping the floor spread not standing still for too long. When the defense has to keep an eye on the driver, it gives the perimeter players an opportunity to shift and rotate to the open spaces.

Unless the defense rotates perfectly, this offense can be extremely difficult to defend.

Recently, Fair has enjoyed increased success taking the ball to the hoop from the wing. His strong drive to the hoop set up Melo's put back dunk to win the Connecticut game.

The Orange run into problems when this offense morphs into a stagnant isolation offense. Just like any other basketball set, a lack of movement away from the ball spells trouble.

Overall, if the Orange run these offenses with sharp cuts and good spacing, they will be in good shape for the Big East Tournament and beyond. It's important for them to not settle for contested jump shots when they can work for a layup or a wide-open jump shot.