Last season, Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone struggled mightily, leading to a paltry 18-14 record before the season was canceled during the ACC Tournament.
According to KenPom.com, Syracuse’s defensive efficiency ranked 116th in the country. Rather than flustering opponents into bad shots and plenty of turnovers, SU allowed teams to pass the ball around the zone, finding holes and easy buckets. So with the Orange returning all starters besides star Elijah Hughes, will the zone improve?
Losing Hughes is detrimental to the wing of the zone, simply because of his familiarity with the defense. Whether he is replaced by Alan Griffin or Kadary Richmond, there is always a learning curve with Boeheim’s 2-3 zone. If Griffin is eligible, he’ll help SU space the floor on offense, but we don’t yet know what he’ll look like on defense.
As for Richmond, he has more defensive potential than almost any player on SU’s roster. Richmond’s length and versatility gives Boeheim the option to deploy the freshman at either guard spot or small forward. His quick twitch athleticism could lead to fast-break opportunities as well.
The most pressing problem for Syracuse is at the top of the zone with Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard. While Girard and Boeheim’s hustle can’t be knocked, neither is athletic enough to cause problems for opposing guards. Maybe that’s where Richmond helps out, but that’s a tough ask for the incoming freshman
Instead, Girard and Boeheim need to become a cohesive unit. Last season, Boeheim admitted that they were allowing too many passes inside to the free throw line. And once the ball finds its way inside the zone, there’s a few different options to score a bucket.
With Girard and Boeheim manning the 2-3, SU will likely never have an elite defense. However, there could be some ways to improve. Girard is too small to play the bottom of the zone, but Boeheim could switch defensive positions with Griffin or Richmond.
While we don’t know how either player would respond at the top of the zone, it might be worth a try. Even if it doesn’t work, there’s different ways that Boeheim can tinker with his lineup to find the best combination.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a clear cut answer of how to improve SU’s defense this upcoming season. Maybe Boeheim and Girard significantly improve and become a cohesive unit. If not, SU may have similar problems as last season.