In Syracuse’s first matchup against sixth-seeded San Diego State, the Aztecs consistently attempted to shoot over the 2-3 zone. Instead of connecting on shots further and further away from the basket, the generally sharp shooting SDSU squad struggled, connecting on just 11-40 three-pointers.
“Obviously we struggled to shoot the ball, their zone was very good,” San Diego State head coach Brian Dutcher said. “We were trying to find ways to attack it off the dribble, off the pass, off the high post and weren’t successful at any of those things because of their high-quality defense.”
Generally, SDSU plays with one of the slowest paces in college basketball. And on Saturday, Syracuse will face another slow-tempo offense unaccustomed to playing against Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone. Houston holds onto the ball for over 19 seconds on its offensive possessions, a rate that ranks 325th in the nation according to Kenpom. While fellow slow-paced teams like Virginia and Clemson are used to seeing the 2-3 zone, and understand how to attack the Orange, Cougars players aren’t accustomed to attacking Syracuse’s active, lengthy defense.
Through two games against San Diego State and West Virginia, both teams were clearly flummoxed for most of the game, and had difficulty penetrating SU’s defense.
“It just took some time for them to gel together,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. “I think it took some time to understand what he was asking him to do. You don’t just, you know, roll out of bed and play the 2-3 zone the way they do. He’s the best that’s ever coached 2-3 zone. They’re the best to ever play it. Syracuse is the best ever play the 2-3 zone.”
While Huggins’ team wasn’t used to playing Syracuse, Huggins had plenty of experience coaching against Boeheim as a former Big East foe. That isn’t the case for Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson.
While Houston has close to a week to prepare for Syracuse, it’s still a difficult task for the Cougars.