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Arizona State Has Seen Plenty of Zone — but not like Syracuse’s

The PAC-12 has turned from the Conference of Champions to the Conference of Zone Defenses this season.

“Teams are changing up,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said earlier this season. “They see the advantage of playing zone for at least a while. … Everybody except Arizona has got some variation of it.”

The league has seen a nearly-wholesale change to zone — at least for fragments of games — in conference play. It seems like some coaches made the switch out of desperation, having seen enough of their players get torched in man-to-man settings.

“I know a lot of teams went to zone and that was really a good decision by their coaches because it worked effectively for them,” ASU guard Tra Holder said Tuesday. “And I feel like if they would have had that early in the non-conference and I know a lot of teams were young as well. So I think once they got into conference play, they were able to find their niche and they’re more comfortable in their system.”

But that doesn’t mean the Sun Devils will be ready for what the Orange will throw at them. Syracuse ranks 11th in the nation in KenPom.com’s defensive efficiency for a reason: the 2-3 is a buzzsaw when Boeheim’s bunch fits a certain mold.

“We’re long, athletic, and versatile,” SU guard Tyus Battle said. “We have a 7-foot shot blocker down low, and even if he doesn’t block it he’ll change your shot, so it makes things tough. And we’re both 6’5 and 6’6” on top. So that’s a lot of length.”

“I just think our zone is very different from a lot of different zones out there,” Frank Howard, Battle’s backcourt partner, added. “I think it’s very hard to attack it. … I think when you haven’t seen it up close and personal at all, I think it can be very difficult to attack.”

Arizona State’s most notable chance to attack a Boeheim-esque scheme came on the first day of February, when it traveled north for a date with Mike Hopkins’ pesky Washington team. ASU, which is notorious for its fast pace and sharpshooting from deep, hit just 5-of-19 (26.3 percent) triples on its way to a 68-64 loss.

The Sun Devils know they’re in for a test Wednesday against the Orange.

“They’re probably one of the biggest teams you play against,” senior guard Kodi Justice said. “We’re going to have to make sure we attack it and we do the right thing, we take smart shots. We’ve got to attack the offensive glass. There’s going to be a lot of things we have to attack in certain positions, but we’ll have to be smart about it.

“And being able to go through the entire PAC-12, most teams zoned us, so we’re kind of ready for zones.”

Actually, maybe they aren’t.

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