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Fizz Follower Mailbag: 11/29 – How Bad Could the 2-3 Be?

Rich Barnes/USA Today Sports

This Syracuse basketball season, there are going to be a lot of questions. Questions regarding COVID-19 policies, coaching decisions, and most importantly, the on-court performance of SU. I’ll be here to answer them. If you have an inquiry regarding Syracuse hoops, keep an eye on the Fizz twitter page for a tweet like this every Saturday night or Sunday morning.

I’ll make sure to cover anything and everything Orange Nation wants to know.

Syracuse certainly raised many an eyebrow last Friday, barely beating Bryant 85-84. The Orange failed to control the pace of the game, and allowed the Bulldogs to get pretty much anything they wanted on the offensive end. Bryant stroked 13 three pointers, and only had three fewer rebounds than SU, despite their starting center Hall Elisias standing at 6-foot-8. It was the opposite of a strong defensive showing for Syracuse.

That leads us to our mailbag question of the week.

That’s a tough one to tackle, considering the Orange have only played one game in 2020. However, it’s certainly a possibility.

Let’s qualify “worst” before anyone get’s ahead of themselves. Looking at a full season, the worst defensive team would assumedly allow the most points per game. Syracuse’s worst defensive season in all of history was in 1969-1970, when Roy Danforth’s Orange allowed a whopping 86.7 points on average in 24 contests.

Narrowing the scope, Jim Boeheim’s worst defensive season in his 45 years at the helm was 1988-1989, when SU allowed just over 76 points per game. However, that team lost in the Elite Eight of the 1989 NCAA Tournament. That squad also wasn’t playing zone like today’s version of Syracuse, as Boeheim didn’t fully commit to playing the 2-3 until the 1996 season.

So let’s tighten the search parameters even more. Syracuse’s worst defensive season under Jim Boeheim while playing the 2-3 zone full time was 2007-08, when the Orange gave up 74.3 points per game, 292nd out of 341 Division 1 teams. SU’s opponents attempted 62 shots per game, shot 43 percent from the field, and forced the Orange to commit 17 fouls per contest. Syracuse finished 21-14 (9-9 in the Big East), was only ranked once in 22 weeks, and didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. SU’s first game that year? A 97-89 shootout win over Siena.

There are some glaring similarities between that 2007-08 team and this year’s SU squad. The ’07 squad started Johnny Flynn, who stood at 6 foot, and either Scoop Jardine (6-foot-2) or Eric Devendorf (6-foot-4) at the top of the zone. The 2020 edition starts 6-foot-1 Joe Girard and 6-foot-5 Buddy Boeheim. The key to the 2-3 is keeping people out of the free throw line area, and the absence of length at the top of the zone is a major issue. The Bryant guards slipped right around Girard and Boeheim and got easy penetration.

Even worse for this year’s team, they might be without a true center. Bourama Sidibe’s status is up in the air after leaving the Bryant game with a left leg injury. Marek Dolezaj is expected to move to the five, but the senior is a foul magnet, and not big enough to compete with ACC centers. Neither Sidibe nor Dolezaj can hold a candle to Donte Green, who averaged 7 boards and 1.6 blocks per game in 2007.

There’s a real chance this SU team could allow upwards of 72 points per game this season, especially if the top of the zone is as flimsy as it was last Friday and Sidibe doesn’t return. Don’t expect Jim Boeheim to change, however. He’ll just live with the results.

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