Sticking with different defenses
It’s zone vs. man in game between Orange, Badgers
BOSTON | One plays zone all the time. The other goes man-to-man from start to finish.
Defense will be the key when topseeded Syracuse faces fourth-seeded Wisconsin in the East Regional semifinals Thursday night. It’s just going to be which style will prevail.
The final 16 teams always include a number that have gotten there by playing defense. Wisconsin’s 52.9 points allowed is the lowest of the teams left in the tournament — and the lowest in Division I this season — while Syracuse’s 60.5 is fifth-best.
The difference in the defenses is that Wisconsin wants to stop you by playing a man-to-man defense that has become well known in a conference known for defense. The Badgers want to control the ball and keep the game with a final score more suited to the days of canvas sneakers and short shorts.
Syracuse, on the other hand, wants to pick up the pace through its defense. The Orange, despite playing a 2-3 zone, are third in the nation with 9.4 steals per game and when they do get a turnover they get out and run, averaging 74.5 points per game.
“The great thing about the game of basketball is you can play and approach it in a lot of different ways and be successful. Coaches have done that over the years,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who’s been so successful in his 36 seasons that he is third all-time on the Division I wins list and is in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. “There’s a lot of different ways to coach a team and to play the game, and yet you can still be successful.”
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan has seen a lot of zone defenses over his 28 seasons, the last 11 with the Badgers, and they all have been played by opponents.
“I’ve never played a second of zone defense since I’ve been at Wisconsin,” senior guard Jordan Taylor said. “I’ve heard Coach say one time he played it one possession and he got scored on I think he said, so he won’t go back to it. I don’t think you’re going to see that tomorrow.”
Ryan grew up in the Philadelphia area and saw a lot of famous zones coached by the likes of Harry Litwack at Temple, Jack Ramsay at St. Joseph’s and Jack Kraft at Villanova.
“You go to the Palestra and you’re 10 years old, 11, 12 years old, and you’re watching ball movement and body movement,” Ryan said. “Those guys were so good in how they taught and how they cut and how they used skip passes. So I’m fortunate in that I’ve been around that a lot.”
This Syracuse zone is different even though starting center Fab Melo was ruled ineligible for the tournament by the school last week.
“They have a system, and when you have a system and it’s been taught for so long ... the athleticism and depth that they have, it really to me doesn’t change how they play or the way they play,” Ryan said. “So we only prepare for who’s there, not for who isn’t. “
The 16 teams left standing in the NCAA women’s tournament include many of the usual suspects and a few surprises too.
Brittney Griner and her undefeated Baylor Lady Bears slammed their way through the first two rounds. So did Geno Auriemma’s Connecticut Huskies, who advanced to the second weekend for the 19th straight year.
Pat Summitt’s Tennessee is still around, too. The Lady Vols seniors are desperately trying to make another Final Four run for their Hall of Fame coach, who announced in early August that she has early-onset dementia. This Tennessee senior class is trying to avoid becoming the first not to make it to the Final Four during its time at the school.
Notre Dame and Stanford are hoping for a return trip to the Final Four. The Irish are looking to avenge their loss last year in the national championship game. Stanford is trying for a fifth-straight trip to the national semifinals.
There are a few surprises and fresh faces left. Eleventh-seeded Gonzaga and Kansas advanced, marking the first time two 11-seeds made it to the regional semifinals in the same season. St. Bonaventure, Georgia Tech and St. John’s all are making their first appearance in the Sweet 16.
The Red Storm needed a last-second shot in the opening round and then had to beat Oklahoma on its home court to advance, much to the joy of President Obama, who picked St. John’s to reach the Final Four in his women’s bracket.
“I’m excited to still be dancing,” St. John’s coach Kim Barnes Arica said.
Like their male counterparts, 14 of the 16 teams still playing come from the power conferences. Only the Zags and Bonnies are outside the BCS. It may not be a huge shock that Gonzaga is still playing, as the Zags made a run to the regional final last year
St. Bonaventure coach Jim Crowley is making the most of his first trip to the NCAAS. The fifth-seeded Bonnies had to survive the mid-major pod by knocking off Florida Gulf Coast in overtime and Marist in the second round.
“We’re the new kids to the party,” Crowley said. “That’s pretty cool.”
C.J. Fair (left) and James Southerland gang up on Kansas State’s Jordan Henriquez in Syracuse’s opening victory. The Orange play Wisconsin at 7:15 p.m. Thursday.