For the third time in five years, Boeheim’s Army fell in the Regional Final on Sunday. Brotherly Love knocked out the Syracuse alumni 84-72 at the SRC Arena in Syracuse. For three consecutive days, Orange fans filled the stands and supported the players they once rooted for in the Carrier Dome with impressive passion. Standing-O to Syracuse basketball fans for the environment they created. But for some reason, Boeheim’s Army continues to come up short of the 2 million dollars they’re expected to contend for.
They were mostly prolific on the offensive end. Head Coach Ryan Blackwell had more pieces to work with than any of his opponents. Three centers, Hakim Warrick, Arinze Onuaku and Darryl Watkins, were all proficient with their backs to the basket and outsized their defenders. Army could go down low and bang with efficiency. Warrick had a team-high 16 on Sunday.
On the perimeter, there were even more options. Eric Devendorf was steadily the best scorer on the roster. He could break down mismatches off the dribble and do damage in transition. Jordan Crawford was inconsistent, but his heroics in the second half of the first round game against We Are D3 and in the 4th quarter in Sunday’s Final kept Boeheim’s Army competitive. Andrew White and BJ Johnson had their moments as well. At the end of the first half against Brotherly Love, Army was shooting 50% from the field and had no lead to show for it. That’s because the defensive end never figured itself out over the course of the weekend.
The major culprit was lack of rebounding. Brotherly Love cashed in on 20 second chance points on 17 offensive rebounds. The difficulties of boxing out is a well-known weakness of the 2-3 zone. For Boeheim’s Army it seemed all the zone shortcomings were simply more glaring than usual. The team never got used to shifting on the perimeter, leading to open threes. Brotherly Love was 8/24 from beyond the arc, and missed plenty of open looks late in the game.
It calls into question the difficulties of playing a 2-3 zone in The Basketball Tournament. Teams only practice a couple weeks before the competition. Yes, everyone played Boeheim’s zone defense in college, spare Crawford. But perhaps that doesn’t make it any easier to mesh with the defensive system as a unit. It certainly looked as if strong defense was a hopeless ask throughout the weekend. This is not a referendum on the 2-3 zone. This is about the unique format of TBT, and weather Boeheim’s Army will ever be able to execute the defense to its potential.
Given the way the community supported Boeheim’s Army and The Basketball Tournament, I suspect the Syracuse alumni team managed by Kevin Belbey will be back in Syracuse playing in front of their home fans soon again. It was something special this summer. But it can be even more special if some adjustments are made.