Syracuse: Threat Level Orange
Syracuse Basketball is off to their best start in team history, going 24-1 over their first 25 games before their recent loss to Louisville. All of this without stars from a year ago Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris.
Nobody expected the Orange to be ranked anywhere close to where they are today, in fact, they were projected in the preseason to finish around 7th in the Big East.
But here they are in mid February, ranked #5 in the country, with a freshman point guard in Brandon Triche, an unknown transfer, starting forward in Wesley Johnson, and a defensive system that is less surprising to opponents than the ending of a romantic comedy is to movie-goers.
But Jim Boeheim has his kids playing as well as any school in the country, and his traditional 2-3 zone defense is looking more and more like a 3-4 defense.
So the question remains, why are teams having such difficulty moving the ball through this year's zone defense, as opposed to the 2-3 defense Syracuse has used in the past? It all starts with the words "team defense".
If you have a bracelet with 5 links, and 4 of the links are strong, while one is a bit weak and loose, your bracelet will eventually fall off. The same goes for a 2-3 zone defense. If you have 4 guys out there who are tremendous defenders, on and off the ball, but your 5th man is a half step slow, over a 35 second possession, a gap will open up for the offense to make their move.
This year, Syracuse puts out 5 guys on the floor, who truly work as one. With veteran guard Andy Rautins and freshman Brandon Triche working the top of the zone, they manage to cover as much space as anyone.
Their ability to anticipate where the ball is moving, and keep their feet active and shuffling make it tough for guys on the wing to get open looks.
The forwards do an excellent job of getting out on the perimeter, and an even better job of recovering back to the post as the ball skips around.
As for when the ball moves down low, the most important adjustment the forwards have to make is for the weakside defenders to come over and help, and that's exactly what long-armed Wesley Johnson and Kris Joseph are capable of doing. And that's not to mention having a 6'9, 260 lb Arinze Onuaku right in the center of everything.
When asked what the greatest reason for the team's success this season, Jim Boeheim quickly answers with one word: "chemistry". These guys just play as one, and when you have 5 guys all on the same page on the defensive end, it's going to be a long day of 27 foot jump shots, shot clock violations, and turnovers which allow Syracuse to thrive in transition.
With veteran role players such as Scoop Jardine and Rick Jackson coming off the bench, this deep and dangerous Syracuse squad presents a serious threat to win six in the NCAA tourney and cut down the nets in Indianapolis.
In the past, the overwhelming offensive talent that Syracuse put on the floor did not make up for all the open 3's, and unchallenged layups given up on the other end.
For example, a few years ago, "one and done" swingman Donte Greene could light it up from all over the court. A unique, Rashard Lewis like forward who can shoot, create, and score virtually at will was Syracuse's go-to player.
Add in Jonny Flynn, Paul Harris, Arinze Onuaku and others and you get a college fantasy basketball team... on paper. But Donte's defensive awareness and inability to move within the zone was so poor, that their 2-3 defense was the bracelet's broken 5th link. That year Syracuse basketball made it all the way to the quarterfinals... of the NIT.
In 2010, Syracuse basketball does not have one player that was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school. Their top two guns, and leaders I might add, Andy Rautins and Wesley Johnson, were unranked on most major recruiting lists coming out of high school.
Their coach and system have been around longer than the wheel, and they play in the toughest conference in basketball. So why is this team potentially the biggest threat to win the National Championship?
It's because instead of having 12 individual players like most teams, Syracuse has one player with 12 different names.
Leading scorer Wesley Johnson averages around 9 rebounds and 16 points per game... on just 11 shots per game.
Nobody on this team needs to dominate the ball for the offense to be effective. Nobody cares about scoring, nobody worries about their individual draft status, it's all about working together as a unit, and that's exactly what they are: one well-oiled Orange Machine.
*Jonathan Wasserman is a graduate of Syracuse University and a contributor to NBADraft.net.
Um.... Rick Jackson is a starter. He came off the bench one game.
Also, Donte Green was only the "go-to-guy" after Devendorf tore his ACL. Check the stats. Even then I would say many games the go-to player was Jonny Flynn. I know, I watched almost every game!!!
When you talk Syracuse basketball, know your stuff. I dare you to prove me wrong!!!
Dhamp2...the greatest basketball mind in the world. Next to Hubie Brown anyway.
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