The zone has always been the hallmark of Jim Boeheim, and he’s had many great defenses through the years, but none can stack up to this year’s version. The Orange has all the ingredients for the perfect 2-3, and the team is undefeated and #1 largely due to its D. Here are our “Final Four” biggest reasons why:
Start with Fab Melo, a 7-foot shot blocker inside who grows more confident and dominant each game. He also just so happens to have a 7-foot backup who can intimidate too. SU adds long athletic wings to the mix, who all see the passing lanes and disrupt long shots. The Orange also has bigger guards who generate a lot of steals, including dynamic Dion Waiters, who comes off the bench and is in the nation’s Top 3 for thefts per 40 minutes.
Every single position has a competent backup, without a major drop off. SU’s best perimeter defender (Waiters) and rebounder (CJ Fair) both come off the bench. The depth benefits Syracuse late in games. Last year, Rick Jackson and Scoop Jardine were forced to play nearly full games. This season no player even averages 30 minutes per contest. In previous years, one key defensive player in foul trouble meant the zone lost effectiveness (Jackson last season). But this year, the Orange just keep sending waves of solid defenders.
Fab described it perfectly to The Fizz after the Villanova game.
“We intimidate teams when we land in their city.”
Statistically, this team gives opposing coaches plenty to think about in preparation. The Orange is giving up just 60.5 points per game – that’s nearly 3 points less than any Boeheim team since 1980. Opponents are shooting a measly 38% against SU, which puts it in the top 25 in the country. This team is 3rd in blocks nationwide (134), anchored by Fab and his stellar 4.95 blocks per 40 minutes.
SU’s activity in the passing lanes has become a hallmark this year. The Orange leads the nation in steals (192) and has held an amazing nine opponents under 60 points already. There’s been a recommitment to defensive focus, something that lapsed for many of the Orange last season. Every player has made this a priority, highlighted by Dion’s transition from last year to this one.
The one negative on defense may be rebounding. SU is just 125th of 330 D-1 schools in rebounding margin. But Syracuse also forces so many missed shots teams have more chances to grab boards. Boeheim also liked to have his guards run instead of crashing the boards, so being above average nationally is solid.
Defense usually equates to offense as well. And SU’s defensive efficiency plays a huge role in its elite transition offense. Few teams do defense as well as Syracuse, which gives this team a great shot to be in New Orleans come early April.
Posted: Alex Plavin