This week we’ve discussed the theories surrounding the new Syracuse basketball brand. Instead of early tourney flameouts and crushing losses, SU is now known for wrecking brackets. For the third time in five seasons Syracuse has risen from the dead to make an inspired run to the Sweet 16. What’s the biggest reason? Pete Gillen coached at Providence against Jim Boeheim from ’94-’98, taking the Friars to the Elite 8 in ’97. He also coached at Xavier and Virginia, with 8 other NCAA Tourney appearances. I asked him on The D.A. Show on CBS Sports Radio this morning whether SU’s runs mainly stem from the unfamiliarity with the zone.
That’s a big part of it, yes. They have teams in the ACC they know the weakness of the zone, they know how to attack it, and they have decent success against it. Even though Syracuse does pretty well (in the ACC), now you get into the tournament, teams haven’t seen a zone like that with big guys up front, like Buddy Boeheim. The size of the front line, where they played the zone, the way they bring it up from the baseline. They make adjustments so I think that’s a big part of it. The kids rise up, Boeheim’s a great game coach. So a lot of things go into it, but I think the biggest thing is that teams haven’t seen an effective zone like that. The size of the players and the length of the Syracuse kids. Give them credit, they’ve been playing very well, they’ve done a great job, winning and winning convincingly in the two games.”
As always, it’s a combination of factors that influence any run like this. It’s certainly not like SU is just a runaway machine like Gonzaga, or got the lucky draw. They’ve beaten two higher-seeded teams and got a near-perfect performance against San Diego State and clutch shooting from Buddy to beat WVU. Plus, SU started to turn up the juice late in the regular season and ACC Tourney. All those teams have seen the zone many times before.
But clearly from a coach that has faced the 2-3 and now analyzes college basketball for CBS Sports Network, it’s apparent. The 2-3 zone has the biggest effect on Syracuse going on runs in March.