The Syracuse Orange have been defined by Head Coach Jim Boeheim’s famous 2-3 zone for a long time. The oldest coach in Division 1 history (75 years), is in his 44th season as the Head Coach of the Orange. This Syracuse team, led by East Carolina University Junior transfer, Elijah Hughes, and Jim’s son, Buddy Boeheim, a Sophomore, has gotten off to a sub par 4-4 start.
After the offense was effectively shut down in the season opener against the reigning champion Virginia, the Orange were able to string together a solid 4 game win streak. These wins came at home against Colgate, Seattle, Cornell, and Bucknell, respectively. During this streak, the Orange allowed their opponents 55 ppg while scoring 82 ppg. However, these were just warm up games for the team, as they went on to face a very experienced Oklahoma State team at the NIT Season Tip-Off.
The Orange were absolutely obliterated by a rising OKSU team. They ended up losing by 14 to a team that was only favored by 2.5 points. This game was set up to be a classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, but the 2-3 killed the Orange. The Orange were out-rebounded by 8 (39-31). This is the main issue in the 2-3, rebounding. Giving a talented team in OKSU 8 more possessions is a real problem. After losing to Oklahoma State, Syracuse went on to play Penn State in the consolation bracket.
Against a really talented Penn State team, led by Head Coach Patrick Chambers, they were able to dominate the Orange. Penn State out rebounded Syracuse by 29 (57-28)! That is a major problem in and of itself. The 2-3 is prone to giving up Offensive Rebounds, which Penn State had 23 of. In addition, the Nittany Lions were able to take advantage of the lack of length at the guard position this year.
The Orange had Tyus Battle and Frank Howard last year at guard. Both of them are extremely tall for their position, as Battle, a 6’6″ combo guard, was able to disrupt passing lanes which allowed the bottom corners of the zone more time to recover. However, this year, with Buddy Boeheim and Freshman Joe Girard III up top in the zone, they lack size. This has allowed opponents to exploit the lack of speed in the bottom of the zone.
In the next and final game of their horrific 3 game losing stretch, the Orange headed back home to face the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes, led by big man Luka Garza, were able to pull away from the Orange in the second half. This was mainly due to Syracuse’s center, Bourama Sidibe, getting in foul trouble. Without Sidibe, the smaller Marek Dolezaj, then in the middle of the 2-3 zone, was unable to defend Garza.
This is yet another worry of the 2-3; without a big man, how can you defend? It is nearly impossible to ask a much smaller Dolezaj to replace a much larger Sidibe, as he does not have the size to get it done.
Overall, Syracuse would benefit in switching it up on the defensive end occasionally. When Syracuse goes into a rare press, they perform very well, creating turnovers and more possessions for themselves. In addition, substituting the 2-3 with some man defense could work and help the defense on the glass. This season is surely far from over, but some could say it is time to panic for Syracuse. They would be smart to flip the switch within the next 3 games or it will set them on a path for an NIT berth, which is an embarrassment for one of the greatest coaches in this generation.
(Photo Credit: NY Post)