The Mikan Drill

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2010 Season Preview: Syracuse’s 2-3 zone

with 3 comments

Continuing with our season preview, today’s piece will look at the 2-3 zone of Syracuse and how I think the zone will work with the current roster. I showed you earlier how to beat a 2-3 zone (seen here) but this will focus on the defensive side of the ball.

Players must be active

When it is going well:

Some people have a misconception about zones that they are for teams that are lazy on defense. Now they can hide a bad defensive player but a lazy team playing zone will still be a bad defensive team.

Take a look at Syracuse in this clip. Notice how the players on the ball are in good defensive stances, shuffling to stay in front of the ball and being active with their hands. That’s how an active zone should work and makes it more difficult to beat the zone.

What it leads to is a tough pull up jumper that was missed. It was the first possession of a NCAA tournament game, so the energy is not surprising, but it is indicative of how an active zone defense will look on any possession.

Here is a later clip that shows the Syracuse zone being active and applying pressure to the offense. Not all the actions are fundamental (you see some poor closeouts) but the effort is there. Butler is rotating the ball beautifully but Syracuse is hustling to stay in front of the ball.

What results is an entry pass to Matt Howard in decent position but Syracuse doubles Howard instead of having their baseline wing player standing around. This makes the shot a bit tougher which results in a missed attempt and a successful defensive possession for Syracuse.

When it is going poorly

A lazy zone is a terrible zone because it will be quite easy for the offense to beat. They will be able to either dribble through or pass right through a zone that is not moving their feet or active with their hands.

Robert Nored is in no position to score at the top of the key but there should be some pressure applied by the zone to make the entry pass difficult. When a team can enter this easily to the middle of the zone, they will be able to carve the zone up.

Even after the ball gets passed into the middle, none of the baseline players step up to meet the ball. They are on their heels and Willie Veasley gets an easy look at the basket. This shows how a lazy zone defense leads to easy baskets.

Defensive rebounding

When it is going well

Since there are no individual defensive assignments, the importance of focusing on defensive rebounding increases. It can be difficult to rebound since the defense does not have men to box out and the offense can easily overload one side of the zone to secure the rebound.

Syracuse was an average defensive rebounding team last season, rebounding the ball on the defensive end 65.7% of the time. When the zone is rebounding well, they are putting a body on an offensive rebounding and making a conscious effort to rebound.

Great athletes are crucial at the bottom of the zone to help rebounding. Since it can be difficult to find someone quickly to box out, the players must sometimes rely on their athleticism to secure the rebound. This is not an ideal situation but it never hurts.

Watch Kris Joseph go up and get this rebound. When the shot goes up, there is no body in his area to box out, but Butler crashes the glass and has several players in the area. This is where Joseph’s athleticism comes into play and helps him secure the loose ball.

Watch the backside of this clip as Wesley Johnson puts a body on Matt Howard to keep him off the glass. Meanwhile, both Rick Jackson and Kris Joseph crash the glass to secure the rebound.

When the zone is rebounding well, the baseline players are putting a body on an offensive player when they can and making a strong effort to hit the glass hard and be physical in securing the rebound.

When it is going poorly

One of the best ways to score on a zone is to crash the glass and get put back layups. As stated above, without individual assignments, offensive players may find themselves free. Also, with the spacing a zone offense brings, they can be in great position to rebound from the time the shot goes up.

Syracuse is at a disadvantage here because they are forced to play Andy Ratuins on the bottom of the zone. He does not put a body on anyone in this clip and is not athletic enough like Johnson or Joseph to jump up and grab the rebound. The result is an offensive layup and putback for Butler.

In this clip, with 2 Syracuse defenders focused on Matt Howard, a Butler teammate is able to sneak into the open spot and grab the offensive rebound. This is not really the fault of any one player but is a result of playing a zone defense.

When the zone defense is going poorly, there is less of an effort to rebound the ball. It has to start with the guards who have to put a body on any offensive players not dropping back to play defense, as these can be the most dangerous crashers. It extends to the backline, to stay in solid position to secure the rebound and trying to find someone to box out.

Forcing 3 point shots

When it is going well

A well played zone will force teams to settle for tough 3 point shots. They will make it difficult to penetrate the zone and will frustrate teams into taking tough long distance shots. Last year’s Syracuse’s opponents took an average of 24.7 3’s per game at a rate of 30% (21 points per game).

Butler here is forced into taking a very deep 3 in this play. These are the types of 3’s Syracuse likes to force in their zone. They have a low success rate for the offense, playing right into the scheme of the zone.

When it is going poorly

A zone can be beaten by 3 point shots if the frontline players do not pressure the shot and let the shooter catch and shoot in rhythm. An example of this is in the following clip. Andy Rautins has his hands at his side and is on his heels inside the 3 point line.

With a dangerous shooter like Mack with the ball in his hands, Rautins should be applying some pressure to not allow an open shot or an easy pass. Mack sees the separation, steps right in and nails the 3.

2010 season outlook

The starting lineup projects to be Triche (6-4″), Jardine (6-2″), Joseph (6-7″), Jackson (6-9″) and Melo (7-0″). I am not sure either Jackson or Melo can play anywhere other than the middle of the zone, so we may see Dion Walters (6-6″) at the bottom opposite Joseph.

While I don’t think this zone projects to be as long and athletic as last season, I still think this team is set up to succeed on the defensive end. They have quick guards who can harass the ballhandlers and big men that can rebound. I think they fall slightly off last year’s pace of the 18th ranked efficent defense but still remain a tough defense.

Joseph is a tough wing player but he needs someone to complement him, a la Wes Johnson from last season. Who will step up? That remains to be seen but I am confident Jim Boeheim will coach someone to play that position well. If he does, I think the Orange should be around the 35th-40th most efficient defense by the end of the season.


Written by Joshua Riddell

October 20, 2010 at 4:32 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Great article!!! Keep up the blog, it’s great. Seems like a good place to learn more in-depth about hoops.


    November 4, 2010 at 2:31 am

  2. Good stuff but did you watch any games besides Butler last year with Arinze playing when Rick was playing the wing? To say Rick Jackson can only play the middle of the zone is completely incorrect. He started last year at the 4 playing the wing of the zone. Also, this year he is 25 pounds slimmer and should be that much better on the wing. Look for Rick to play very little in the middle of the 2-3 with Fab and Baye getting most of the minutes in the middle.


    November 6, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    • Thanks for your comment. I did watch other games beside the Butler game, I just did not have them on tape. I think Jackson does have the ability to play a low block position, but I have some doubts about whether it will be as strong as a Johnson/Joseph combo was. I was hoping to get some input and I appreciate your opinion. It is something I am going to be revisiting this season. Seen anything in the exhibition games so far?


      November 6, 2010 at 3:26 pm

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