ATLANTA — Some get paid millions to try and solve the riddle facing the Michigan coaching staff at the Final Four this weekend.
How do you score against the Syracuse 2-3 zone defense? Lately, there seems to be no answer.
More than any single player, it’s the amoeba-like creation crafted by Jim Boeheim over the past 37 seasons and honed to near perfection over the last month that’s turning into the team’s trademark.
With hundreds of college basketball’s brightest minds in town for a coaching convention that runs in tandem with the Final Four, The Associated Press picked out a handful and asked them this simple question: Given a week to game plan, how would you try to pick apart Syracuse?
“A week to prepare?” said Steve Robinson, a longtime assistant for Roy Williams, who also had stints as a head coach at Tulsa and Florida State. “Some people haven’t been able to prepare for that and they’ve had all season.”
Syracuse is allowing 45 points a game and 27 percent shooting in the NCAA tournament.
“The 2-3 zone is one of the most basic zones you face,” explains Miami’s Jim Larranaga, named Thursday as The Associated Press Coach of the Year. “What makes Syracuse’s zone is the players. They’re long, athletic and they cover a lot of ground. So, what appears to be an open shot is almost always going to be challenged by an outstanding athlete.”
Chris Crutchfield, an assistant for Oklahoma, works for Lon Kruger, who is considered one of the top tacticians in the game.
“We talked about that before we left,” Crutchfield said. “I don’t know how you do it.”
One obvious problem, Crutchfield says, is that teams don’t see the zone all that much during the season, so they don’t practice for it. Then, when they do — well, it’s hard to make it look like Syracuse’s zone.
“You don’t have the athletes they have to simulate it,” he said. “You can practice against it, you can talk about putting the ball in certain places, but you can’t simulate that. So, now, the gaps that you’ve seen in practice, you’re not going to see them because they cover up all those gaps. It’s really unbelievable.”