In the closing seconds of Team USA's 86-85 victory over Spain, assistant coach Jim Boeheim called out, "Let's go orange."
The defense reacted by switching from man to a 2-3 zone, allowing Kevin Durant to block two Spanish jump shots and seal the game. Spain never knew what hit them, and neither will the rest of the top basketball teams in the world.
Although Team USA has stuck to a man defense almost exclusively through three exhibition games, they would be well served by making the 2-3 zone their primary defense.
The 2-3 zone has been trademarked, and some might say perfected, by Boeheim, the head coach for the Syracuse Orange. It requires two players, usually the guards, to defend the top of the zone. Two more players, usually the forwards, guard the sides of the zone. And the center guards the lane.
The idea behind the zone is to force opposing teams to move the ball and settle for outside shots. Another strength is that the zone can mask poor defenders or mismatches.
A strong zone typically requires very long and athletic players, exactly the type of players Team USA has on its roster. Rajon Rondo (ultra quick with a freakishly long wingspan), Derrick Rose (6'3" and quick), Rudy Gay (6'8" and freakishly long), and of course Kevin Durant, a.k.a. "The Human Spider" (6'9" with a guard's quickness and a center's wingspan).
The zone works to Team USA's advantage for several other reasons as well. With a shortage of big men, a zone prevents opponents from pounding the U.S. inside—the squad's greatest weakness.
There is not a team in the world that can match USA's speed and athleticism. The guards at the top of the zone will have no trouble controlling the perimeter and preventing open looks.
The only way to beat the U.S. would be to consistently hit outside shots, a skill that very few international players have in their repertoire.
The biggest problem with executing a zone defense is doing it properly. Its success is dependent on the entire defense shifting as a unit to the movement of the ball. Boeheim spends months teaching his players how to do it well, but Team USA has only been together for a few weeks.
But if college players can do it, there's no reason 12 of the most talented NBA professionals can't do it.
If the U.S. can come together as a team and play the 2-3 zone with the same heart and energy that Syracuse did this past season, then odds are good that they can win the 2010 FIBA World Championship.