No defense in college basketball is more famous than the Syracuse zone. It is written about for coaching help books, broken down extensively across the Internet and profiled in a great three-part series this winter for the student newspaper, the Daily Orange.
And now the Maryland men’s basketball team, for the first and only time as ACC foes, steps up at home to face the Great Big Boeheim Machine, with all its swarming, swatting, suffocating arms. The defense adapts too, and that may be its greatest feat, because whenever one crack is exposed, the Orange promptly caulk it, build a brick wall around it and line the area with caution tape.
“Their zone’s terrific,” Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon said. “You can’t simulate in practice, so you have to get used to it and you know it’s coming, but you can’t simulate their size and stuff. A lot of challenges for us.”
This season, the Orange are allowing 93.3 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 12th nationally according to KenPom.com but also happens to be their worst rate since 2008-09. They have allowed 80 points twice this season, which is as many as they ceded in the past three combined.
The Terrapins have faced many zones this season, but only recently developed an offense around something other than three-man exchanges on the perimeter. They were excellent in overloading one side against Miami, but will Syracuse’s length induce claustrophobia and make things too crowded for an offense to function?
They have also experimented with placing Dez Wells at the high post, and this seems like the best option Monday night. When Duke lost in overtime at the Carrier Dome, the Blue Devils scored 1.37 points per possession when the high post got a touch and shot 54.5 percent on those possessions, according to ESPN.com. On possessions with no touch, they averaged 0.40 points and shot 16 percent.
Duke’s victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium brought a similar formula, again per ESPN. Touches in the lane netted the Blue Devils 56 percent shooting and 29 percent when it didn’t happen. If Maryland opts for the chuck-it-up route, it needs strong nights from Evan Smotrycz, who hasn’t made a three-pointer in two games, and Jake Layman, who leads the Terps in three-point shooting at a shade under 40 percent.
“We’ve seen a lot of zone,” Turgeon said. “We haven’t seen this zone, but we’ve seen a lot of zones. There’s no doubt about it. Like any zone, there’s holes in it. You’ve got to find it. Then when you get chances you’ve got to make shots.
“Everybody tries to attack it the same way. There’s certain ways to attack it. And they adjust. I think you have to have three or four different ways o go against their zone, because if you do one the whole game they’re going to adjust. They do it every night. We’ve seen a lot of zone. We feel comfortable against the zone.”
>> In four months, Tyler Ennis likely will be drafted somewhere within the lottery in the NBA draft, should he choose to declare, and it’s probably reasonable to assume NBA teams really want him to do so. The freshman point guard averages 5.6 assists per game, leads the ACC with 2.1 steals per game, has a 3.5 assist-to-turnover ratio and hit the cold-blooded game-winner against Pittsburgh, as if his legacy needed more bullet points.
Ennis slowed down at Duke considerably, shooting 2 for 13 but still finished with a balanced night of nine points, four rebounds, six assists, four steals and two turnovers.
“He’s been tremendous,” Turgeon said. “He plays an unbelievable amount of minutes [35 per game]. For his body to withstand this is amazing. He just stays calm. Makes big shots, makes big plays, doesn’t turn it over a lot. In the B.C. game he had a turnover late then almost another which he doesn’t too.”
>> Today’s print advance looked at the childhood friendship between Nick Faust and C.J. Fair, who will meet in a competitive game for the first time. The two grew up talking about playing college basketball together, but with time grew apart in their aspirations.
“Those conversations always came up,” Fair said. “We all played rec and AAU ball together. We always had that bond. It would be crazy if we all went to the same school. We always played for the same team.”
>> Don’t know why “warm” was the decided-upon adjective.
— Maryland Athletics (@umterps) February 24, 2014
Faust and Fair reunited in an ACC at conference media day last fall, and discussed Monday’s matchup. Faust promised a big crowd and a raucous atmosphere. “For me,” Fair said, “I just wanted to play my game. I’m not going to take it lightly.”