Texas on offense
As someone who has had to attack the Orangemen's 2-3 zone, trust this: it is a daunting task. Texas, however, has a player who could make the task a little easier -- Ford.
|T.J. Ford will need to drive and keep the ball moving against Syracuse's 2-3 zone.|
The easiest way to score against a zone is to beat it down court. Using Ford's ability in the open court to get easy baskets before Syracuse can get back to its zone will be crucial to the Longhorns' success. Texas will also count on Ford's quickness to attack the top of the zone with dribble penetration, forcing Duany and McNamara to contain him. This will create, with quick ball movement, a "4-on-3" advantage, temporarily, to get some open looks for Mouton, Ivey, and Harris.
Texas must also set screens at the top of the zone to create confusion as to who will be responsible for Ford. This gives him a different way to penetrate into the lane from the top. Also, I would look for Ford to get the ball to Thomas and Buckman in the middle of the zone on "flash cuts" from behind the zone, where they can catch it, draw defenders, and kick it back out to the 'Horns shooters. Keep in mind, Auburn put an athletic Marquis Daniels in the middle to catch and ctreate, and it nearly got the Tigers past the 'Cuse in the Sweet 16.
The Longhorns will also use the "short corners" behind the zone, along the baseline, as a place to score or to look to pass to the opposite wing to "stretch the zone." This must be quickly, because Syracuse will trap this area of the zone. But, Texas has the luxury of popping out the 6-9 Boddicker, an outstanding shooter, to create four perimeter players vs. the zone. Because he is such a threat, the zone must expand to cover everyone and this will open up more penetrating opportunities for Ford.
No matter how it attacks the zone, Texsas must take care of ther ball, be crisp with its passing, and make the zone move side to side. The ball always moves faster via the pass than the defender can move. Good offensive rebounding is usually effective vs. a zone because the responsibility for blocking out isn't as defined as it is in man-to-man defense. But, while Texas is a relentless offensive rebounding team, the 'Cuse is accustomed to blocking out well in this defense.
Finally, as simple as it sounds, the 'Horns must take good, open shots and -- this is "genius stuff" -- make them! Syracuse holds teams to 30 percent from the 3-point arc because the zone forces teams into hurried, contested shots.
Syracuse on defense
The biggest coaching question at this year's Final Four is: How will Texas solve Syracuse's 2-3 zone?
|Kueth Duany will need to score and defend for Syracuse.|
Because the Orangemen play the 2-3 zone all season as their "base" defense, they are very, very good at it. It also helps that Jim Boeheim has a group of big, rangy guards and mobile forwards, who cover a lot of space in the half-court defense. But, the biggest concern for Syracuse is to, first, get back in transition to set up its zone up against T.J. Ford, possibly the country's quickest point guard.
Texas' ability to get down the court before the 2-3 zone is set is crucial because teams that push the ball quicker that the Orange can get back on defense don't need a zone offense if they are consistently scoring quick transition baskets.
For this reason, Ford presents a major problem for the zone -- in transition and in the half court. Ford can get into the heart of any defense and break it down with his extraordinary ball-handling ability. Syracuse will commit to keeping him out of the lane with McNamara and Duany. This commitment to stopping Ford puts pressure on the 'Cuse forwards, who must get out to the Texas shooters and contest shots so that Ivey, Brandon Mouton and Sydmill Harris don't get open looks.
Syracuse will also have to contend with a weapon they normally don't see from an opponent's big men -- Brian Boddicker's ability to shoot the 3-point shot. So, awareness of where he is will be crucial.
Finally, rebounding out of its zone will be important because the Longhorns average 16 offensive rebounds a game and turn many of those into scoring opportunities for James Thomas, Brad Buckman, and Jason Klotz.