BOSTON – One of the axioms of college basketball is that you play zone against a team that plays zone.
Syracuse, which plays the best zone defense in the sport, has struggled recently against zones.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta, who on Saturday will be the next coach to try to solve the 2-3 defense when his second-seeded Buckeyes (30-7) meet the top-seeded Orange (34-2) with a berth in the Final Four at stake, was asked if he was thinking of trying to play zone against a zone.
“Not really. We’re into Game 30, whatever it is. We kind of are who we are from that standpoint to be honest with you,” he said Friday. “Going against a zone this week – we felt like Cincinnati was going to play us like they did last night, the first half zone, and thought there was a chance we’d play Syracuse, so we went against zone in practice and left with a ton of confidence on offense because the zone was so bad. So we’re not going to do that.”
Syracuse’s zone is far from bad, even when it’s far from perfect.
Wisconsin pounded the zone with 14 three-pointers in the 64-63 East Regional semifinal loss to the Orange, but came up short down the stretch.
“I heard, I don’t know when it was, a couple years ago, whatever, and I thought it was the greatest answer I’ve ever heard from Coach Boeheim,” Matta recounted. “Somebody asked him what do you do when somebody gets really hot against your zone and they’re making threes? He said ‘How do you know they’re not going to make them against man-to-man?’ He has his philosophy, and he’s only won 900 or however many games he’s won. It works for him.
“Watching that game last night, he struck true to what he’s done. Fourteen threes, you might say, ‘Hey, that’s good enough to get the job done.’ Last night it wasn’t.”
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim hasn’t won 900 games. He’s won 890, third on the all-time Division I list behind Mike Krzyzyewski and Bob Knight. The victory over Wisconsin was his 48th in the NCAA tournament, breaking a tie for fifth place with former UCLA coach John Wooden.
Boeheim gave a quick clinic ÂFriday about the zone.
“There’s a few advantages to playing zone,” he said. “I mean, we play zone because we think it’s our best defense overall to win the game. But at the end of games, you’ll see at least half the time in a close game, there’s a foul called on a drive to the basket because that’s what people will do. They’ll try to get to the basket and they’ll foul Âbecause you’re playing man-to-man. Very seldom is somebody going to go to the foul line and beat us. That almost never happens.”