Syracuse Basketball: Is Orange's 2-3 Zone NCAA Tournament-Ready?
A unique defensive approach has helped Syracuse remain among the nation's elite for decades. When the Orange is executing the game plan at this point in the season, it's a solid indication that Jim Boeheim's team is on the right track toward a title.
Some coaches use zone-scheme defenses as a fallback plan. Boeheim implements a 2-3 zone as his default defense.
That strategy has given opponents fits for years, propelling Syracuse to five Big East tournament titles and the 2003 national championship. Judging by the effort and consistency of this season's Syracuse squad, it seems the Orange is capable of riding a strong defensive rotation deep into March.
A key component of the 2-3 zone is a stable of rangy, versatile perimeter players who can help lock down an opponent's ability to create open three-point attempts. That's been a calling card of the Orange again in 2013.
Teams are shooting just 29 percent from three-point territory against Syracuse. That mark is tops in the Big East and becomes even more impressive when you consider the Orange have faced more three-point attempts than anyone in the conference.
Syracuse shut down the Big East's best three-point shooting team on Feb. 4, when the Orange limited Notre Dame to 30 percent (6-of-20) from beyond the arc and claimed a 63-47 victory.
Brandon Triche (6 feet 4 inches), Michael Carter-Williams (6 feet 6 inches) and C.J. Fair (6 feet 8 inches) do a great job of adapting to multiple offensive attacks. Their length and athleticism fall in line with exactly how this defense operates, allowing each defender to quickly make up space along the perimeter without sacrificing too much ground inside.
Of course the 2-3 zone would be of little use to any team without a formidable post presence.
Rakeem Christmas, a 6 foot 9 inch sophomore, continues to evolve in his second tour of an intense conference schedule. The Philadelphia native averages more than two blocks per contest and is pulling down nearly double the amount of rebounds per game (5.3) as his freshman season.
Christmas has turned away 11 shots in his last four Big East games.
Baye Keita also provides a defensive boost in the paint. The 6 foot 10 inch junior has two blocks in each of the team's last two games.
Traditionally, Syracuse does a tremendous job of luring opponents into mistakes. Boeheim's scheme has claimed the composure of countless point guards over the years.
The Orange force 10 steals per contest, which ranks second in the Big East. Carter-Williams, a sophomore, is third in the nation with steals per game (3.1).
Syracuse currently sits at 20-4, one game behind Georgetown in conference standings. The Orange still have matchups with four currently ranked conference opponents so the tests are sure to come for Boeheim's squad.
It's an opportunity for his team to stand tall and make a case for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. If the Syracuse defense continues to put stranglehold on opposition perimeter play, protects the paint and comes up with opportunistic plays, it could carry the Orange all the way to Atlanta.
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