The signature of Syracuse basketball is the 2-3 zone. Jim Boeheim’s masterpiece has been run to near perfection for 35 years. Heck, you can buy a Boeheim zone instructional video on Amazon for $39.99. While there’s no chance the Per’fesser will suddenly have a change of heart in his twilight years on the sideline, it would be intriguing to see JB throw a change-up on occasion and use man to man in games.
Why? Because the personnel and great depth of the Orange in the upcoming season, could work perfectly for it.
Dion Waiters and Brandon Triche are the two players that stick out who could have the ability to be great lock down defenders. They are built to play man defense. Putting them at the top of a zone doesn’t utilize their defensive abilities (as Dion’s coach once told The Fizz). Both DW and Brandon have the quickness to stay with smaller guys and the frame to out-muscle bigger guards. They both could apply a lot of pressure to ball handlers and cause turnovers for quick points the other way.
Man to man would also raise the level of intensity on defense that SU desperately needed at times last year. Former SU guard Jonny Flynn stated that M2M kept his team more focused in the game because of constant activity on both ends of the floor. Many of the Orange guards were criticized for lazy play and poor defense at the top of the zone. But playing zone breeds lethargy. Playing man lights a fire with the one job being not to let your guy beat you and score. When your man scores, you are the one accountable for it. SU players may embrace the challenge to “man up” and shut down top scorers.
Another reason to run man to man is the zone doesn’t always work. Against good shooting teams (Louisville) or on a night a team catches fire (Seton Hall last season), the zone is vulnerable. There were times in the pass season where a tweak in the game plan was definitely needed. Witness the Cards draining threes and cutting up the defense (which seems to happen every year against Pitino). Or Jeremy Hazell seamlessly rising over the smaller guards on the perimeter and scorching the Orange for 28 points (a switch out of the zone probably would have helped).
Boeheim has switched out of his zone in the past, and the Orange has benefited from it. In the ’08-’09 season, multiple times a change to man was the catalyst for a late second-half surge. The most notable was against Kansas when SU, down 12 mid way through the second, switched to M2M and sparked a great comeback. A new energy was given to Syracuse that game and many players credited the man defense for the win.
This is not to suggest abandoning the zone. This is the Per’fesser’s bread and butter that has guided him to more than 800 wins. Just a way to spice it up more often and keep teams on their toes. Having to plan to play against both man and zone defense would give teams nightmares and might even make the zone even more effective.
Posted: Dave Van Moffaert