Jim Boeheim is in his 46th season as the head coach of Syracuse Men’s Basketball. He is one of the most decorated and well-known figures in the sport, both collegiately and professionally. Heck, he is a walking Hall of Famer.
Boeheim has built his success through his patented 2-3 zone defense. He’s been doing it for decades, to an extent that whenever that specific formation is brought up, Syracuse is the first thing that comes to people’s minds. However, in Tuesday’s win over Indiana, Boeheim made a change. Instead of a 2-3 zone, the Orange set up in a 1-1-3.
Let’s break all of this down for the people that may not be super knowledgeable about the X’s and O’s of basketball schemes. In a 2-3 zone, there are two guards at the top that usually play from the elbows out to the wings. Then, there are three forwards/centers that make up the back line that protect the hoop and stretch out into the corners.
Here is a handy dandy video from a much younger Boeheim explaining the basics of a 2-3 zone:
On Tuesday, Boeheim made a change. In the Battle 4 Atlantis, Syracuse’s opposition knew exactly how to break the zone. They would get the ball to the free throw line, where a player could either turn and shoot, or the defense would collapse, leading to a kick out and an open shot.
The Syracuse coaching staff and players were well aware of this weakness, noting how they got picked apart in the Bahamas after Tuesday’s win. So, instead of keeping two people up top, Boeheim slid his son Buddy down to the free throw line and moved Joe Girard up to the top of the three point arc.
Here’s what it looked like versus Indiana:
In this new formation, Girard flew around the top, taking away any three point shooters, and Boeheim denied the high post entry passes. If there were any quick skips that Girard couldn’t get to, Boeheim would come out to challenge the ball and Girard would fall back to the high post.
It was a change that Syracuse needed desperately, and it worked.
“It kept the ball out of the middle a little bit,” said Boeheim after the game. “They made a couple adjustments, and we had to come out a little bit of it. But it was helpful for a while.”
The Orange held the Hoosiers to just 33 points in the first half while playing the 1-1-3 zone. Coach Boeheim gave up on it in the second half, which is when Indiana began to penetrate the zone and make a comeback. The defensive switch wasn’t the only reason for the close game down the stretch, IU just started hitting its shots. However, not playing a 1-1-3 and denying the free throw line was definitely a factor.
Boeheim has built his brand on the 2-3 zone, but you have to adapt with the times. This year’s team is having difficulty when teams get the ball on the inside. So, it may be smart to go to the 1-1-3 more often.