The Syracuse men's basketball team is off to a wonderful start, thanks in large part to the 2-3 zone.
The worst-kept secret in basketball is that No. 2 Syracuse (17-0, 4-0 ACC) will play its game in the 2-3, but there is a terrible rumor out there that there is a secret to beating this feared defense.
The three-point shot.
Long have the zone's detractors dismissed the zone as a gimmick, believing that a team need only to be a proficient three-point-shooting team in order to beat the Orange's exclusive defense. Anyone who has played against the Orange during Jim Boeheim's tenure as head coach will tell you that this is simply not true.
Well, it's half true.
If a team hits all of its threes, it can beat not only the 2-3 zone, but any defense it plays in front of.
Teams just don't shoot that well from the outside. This is why playing against the Syracuse 2-3 zone is a cerebral work day, but even when teams play against it correctly, the Orange adapt and, quite often, their second-half adjustments are the difference in their games.
Be it taking away the high post, or stretching out to meet shooters at the perimeter, Syracuse has seen every way that teams attempt to overcome the 2-3. However, this season, teams are getting lazy, and that's good news for the Orange.
Case in point, Villanova and its coach Jay Wright have seen the 2-3 zone for years as former foes in the Big East. When it was announced that Syracuse and Villanova would continue playing each other, Orange fans knew they were in for a street fight, as the Wildcats have proven to be a formidable foe over the years.
When Villanova came into the Carrier Dome on Dec. 28 undefeated, as the surprise No. 8 team in the country, a street fight seemed a little too mild for what was going to happen.
The Wildcats jumped out to a 25-7 lead on the power of four-straight three-pointers made, and the Orange looked a little punch drunk. Syracuse clamped down on defense and went on a 20-0 run to make it interesting, but rather than adjust their style of play and try to work inside of the zone, the Wildcats continued to shoot the three in hopes they would get hot again.
I'm sure coach Wright has forgotten more basketball than I will ever know, but he had to know his first half was an illusion, and the threes could not continue to fall at such a high rate.
In the first half, Villanova shot 6-of-16 from the three-point line and kept the game close, only trailing 38-34. In the second half, Syracuse adjusted, played more spread out and held 'Nova to 4-of-15 from three. This means that in hopes of shooting over the zone, 'Nova shot 10-of-31 from long range.
To illustrate the futility of this, The Wildcats attempted only 19 non-three-point shots and made only nine.
So, while loading up from three, Villanova neglected most other forms of scoring and allowed Syracuse to win 78-62.
Villanova is not alone, as a growing trend this season is that teams have given up trying to beat the zone and are hoping to get lucky.
Virginia Tech found early success shooting the three, going 5-of-12 in the first half on Jan. 7, and trailed only 35-29 at the break. Syracuse's adjustments held the Hokies to 2-of-12 perimeter shooting in the second half, which helped Syracuse run out to a 20-point win.
On Jan. 4, Miami went 5-of-11 from the outside in the first half and was within striking distance with a 25-21 deficit at the break. In the second half, 2-of-8 three-point shooting helped the Orange to a 49-44 win.
In the Maui Invitational, back on Nov. 26, California went 4-of-12 in the first half, which was good enough to keep them tied at 41 at the break, but 2-of-9 perimeter shooting in the second half helped the Orange to a 92-81 win.
Other teams have just failed piecing together any perimeter shooting but still kept at it.
North Carolina went 2-of-12 in a 57-45 win for Syracuse.
St. John's went 1-of-15 from downtown in a narrow 68-63 win for Syracuse.
Even when teams are moderately successful for the entire game, such as Boston College's combined 9-of-21 effort on Jan. 13, the effort usually proves futile, as teams find they can't make enough threes when the pressure is on.
In Boston College's case, the Orange won the battle of turnovers.
Syracuse only turned the ball over eight times to Boston College's 16 and outscored the Eagles 19-9 in points off turnovers. That proved to be the difference in the 69-59 win.
Eventually, teams will go back to attacking the zone from the inside, a la Jim Calhoun, John Thompson and Jamie Dixon, but until then, the Orange have to be happy to see the three-pointers fly.