Syracuse vs. Michigan: Zone Defense of Orange Will Smother Wolverines

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistApril 5, 2013

Mar 28, 2013; Washington, D.C., USA; Marquette Golden Eagles guard Trent Lockett (22) attempts to regain possession as Syracuse Orange guard Michael Carter-Williams (left) and forward Rakeem Christmas (25) defend in the first half during the finals of the East regional of the 2013 NCAA tournament at the Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse will be at its reptilian best on Saturday night.

The Orange have utilized their 2-3 zone to great success so far in the 2013 NCAA tournament. They've held opponents to just 45.7 points a game. Syracuse has been like a snake in that it slowly constricts around opposing teams until they have nothing left.

It echoes what Jim Boeheim has been getting out of his squad all season. Syracuse is only surrendering an average of 58.6 points a game. More importantly, those points are coming on just 36.8 percent shooting, which includes a paltry 28.2 percent from three-point range.

Syracuse presents a great foil to the hot-shooting Wolverines. Michigan is hitting 48.5 percent of its shots, including 38.5 percent from behind the arc.

Great shooting can often beat a tough zone defense. Even the most stringent 2-3 can't cover every part of the court. With good penetration and solid ball movement, a team can open up shots on the perimeter.

Burke has the ability to be the offensive spark. Unfortunately, he's been off his game in the tournament. It's impressive that Burke is scoring 18.8 points a game, but even better is the efficient way in which he has done so.

However, he's only made 22 of his 63 shot attempts. His shooting percentage of 34.9 in the tournament is almost 150 percentage points below his season average.

Michigan also relies on shooters Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas, but much of their offense is predicated on Burke. If he struggles, the entire team struggles. The defenses that Burke has seen are nowhere near as problematic as what he'll see against Syracuse.

John Beilein has experience against Syracuse, having coached against it in the Big East. While that's a benefit, it doesn't mean he'll have automatic success.

Each team changes slightly over the years. Just because you've seen a version of the Orange's 2-3 zone, doesn't mean you've got the answer for every zone in the future.

With guys like Brandon Triche, Michael Carter-Williams and James Southerland, Syracuse has tons of length to defend out on the perimeter. They can quickly close out on Burke, Stauskas and Hardaway when they get any space to shoot.

The Orange need to follow the blueprint they used against Indiana.

The Hoosiers came in as one of the best offensive teams in the country. Syracuse held them to just 3-of-15 from three-point range. Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford were completely negated. Cody Zeller was also taken out of the game. He scored 10 points and finished 3-of-10 from the floor.

It may not be a ton of fun to watch, but Syracuse will manage to keep the score low by neutralizing the Wolverines offense.


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