Zoneo Must Die Comment Count

Brian April 5th, 2013 at 11:13 AM

Everyone and their uncle has a post about Syracuse's 2-3 zone and how to beat it, focusing on a lot of things but usually the usual: get the ball to the free throw line and make the right decision once there.

You have your pick:

Michigan versus Syracuse, 2011. The Shredder went back and looked at that weird early-season tournament game that was on HDNet, finding examples of Darius Morris doin' stuff:


Michigan shot 25% on 32 threes and lost 53-50 in a game well under a PPP on both sides. Morgan, Horford, and Hardaway were on that team; everyone else has been replaced. Hardaway was 1/8 from three. This was not a win for zone-busting. FWIW, Michigan and 'Cuse both went down in the second round of the tourney that year but the Orange were a considerably better team overall. That was a matchup between the #16 defense and #31 offense.

Michigan versus mini-Syracuse, earlier this year. UMHoops looked at this game in some detail.


Bryan Fuller

Michigan has an advantage here: they've already played this zone. Former Syracuse assistant Rob Murphy now runs the Eastern Michigan program. Michigan played them earlier this year. They even feature a former Syracuse recruit in seven-foot center Da'Shonte Riley. Remember this?

A rote domination. For comparison's sake, Syracuse took Eastern Michigan to a similar—but not quite as impressive—woodshed, winning 84-48. Therefore we are better than Syracuse. #math

Michigan took a little time to get going before getting a fusion reaction going in the second half.

In the first few minutes, Michigan continued to struggle, but the nice thing about Beilein teams is you know they'll adjust, which Michigan did in three steps:

  1. adding ball screens to disrupt the zone's balance and get the guy in the high post open
  2. getting that high post guy to dump it down to the big once Riley showed to contest
  3. teaching the bigs to finish against a shotblocker.

McGary and Morgan were 1-6 in the first half with swats accounting for half the misses. In the second half they were 7-7. Riley got in foul trouble, which helped, but more efficient ball movement got McGary some uncontested dunks and Morgan opened the second half with a couple of finishes against Riley.

The ball screen still works by focusing two defenders on a single guy. The zone has the advantage of making guy #2 a guard—in this case a very big guard—instead of a lumbering post who has to recover to the paint at some point. Two guys on one guy means some guy is open, though.


looks familiar

It's still just basketball. You are in a situation, you evaluate it, you make a decision. The Syracuse zone gets beaten when three guys make correct decisions in a row.

Eastern is of course not Syracuse. They're 122nd in defensive efficiency on Kenpom; Syracuse is 5th. Even if you don't like Kenpom's SOS adjustments, the Eagles only finished third in MAC play. Oh and they lost to the Orange 84-48.

Despite the Not Syracuse thing they're not the worst comparison you could find. Against Michigan they started Riley, two guys in the 6'8" range, and 6'6" shooting guard Daylen Harrison. In terms of size, the only thing separating Eastern from Syracuse was 30 minutes of 5'11" Jalen Ross.

Michigan shredded these folks for 1.33 PPP, shooting 51% on twos and 50% on threes—Stauskas poured in 5 of 8—while rebounding almost half their misses. Eastern Is Not Syracuse but they are in a couple key respects: block percentage (4th nationally), TOs generated (38th), three pointers ceded (346th, ie they give up a zillion billion), 3P% defense (just under 30%, 16th nationally). Syracuse was much better at 2PT defense and played a much tougher schedule; otherwise the underlying numbers aren't that different.

Syracuse vs Louisville, Big East Championship Game. UL's second-half clinic in the Big East Championship game is examined by UMHoops as well. (Caveat: UL's first two games against 'Cuse were a 70-68 loss and a 58-53 win.) That was a lot of triple-threat at the free-throw line featuring Louisville's jump-shooting 6'10" center Gorgui Dieng. 


Can McGary handle that role? Cody Zeller failed spectacularly. I'm saying there's a chance. McGary's displayed a soft shooting touch at the elbow in the tournament; his 2P jumper percentage is just a point off Dieng's. He has also displayed the capability to put the ball on the floor for a dribble or two to get to the rack. The issue is passing Dieng is a regular participant in UL shot creation. McGary has not done that much for Michigan. While his heads-up play indicates he might be able to, the Final Four seems like a less than ideal place to try it out.

The other primary candidate is Tim Hardaway, Jr. Hardaway has a quality jumper, the height to see and pass around the trees, a low TO rate, and does assist on a number of buckets. Unfortunately he's coming off a weekend in which he was 7/24 from the floor. If he's not on, Michigan may have to sink or swim with McGary in the high post—or just screen screen screen Burke into similar situations.

Syracuse vs Indiana, Sweet 16. Inside The Hall's focus is helpful because it's not about what worked, but about the many many ways in which Indiana failed to handle the 2-3 effectively. Zeller's refusal to take the elbow jumper was a problem:


That turnover aside, similar shoulder-dropping moves put Zeller underneath the bouncy Syracuse centers and led to an astounding six of his eleven shots being returned to center.

More ominous is a version of the Stauskas three from the EMU game embedded above in which Indiana gets an "open look" that gets blocked.

Even if Michigan is smart enough to avoid that thunderous closeout, Michigan's shooting efficiency plummets once they move from catch-and-shoot to off the dribble. Michigan's corner gunners do have a couple inches on Abell and six on Jordan Hulls, but that closeout from a 6'8" dude is tough no matter how tall you are.


Take open looks. If it's there, just put it up, and go get it. This includes lining up a foot or two behind the arc. A spot-up NBA three is a better shot than the horrible one-dribble-inside-the-line thing fierce Syracuse closeouts threaten to induce.

Get Burke to the free throw line (not that free throw line). This will have to be a lot of ball screening, possibly versions of the double high screen Michigan used to free Burke at the end of the Kansas game (sort of, anyway). Michigan will also have wing threats that will make it hard for Fair and Southerland to close out two players on the perimeter.

Burke is better equipped than anyone on the team to make the right decision once he's past the first layer of defense, and if McGary isn't triggering from the high post he'll be in a better rebounding position.

Hardaway? They'll try it. They'll have to make a quick decision on his effectiveness. If he's off, he's off.

Screen the wings. Michigan can prevent things like that Abel block above by using McGary to impede closeouts. If they can get off a bunch of quality corner threes, they likely win.



April 5th, 2013 at 11:30 AM ^

The hype around the zone is so weird to me.  It's just the media saying THIS is the game Michigan has to watch out for, after saying the same thing in the previous 4 games.  Syracuse is not undefeated, in fact they're not even a 1 seed, or a 2 seed, or a 3 seed.  Coupled with the fact that Michigan has played the best of any team in the tournament except for maybe Louisville, I don't think we should be any more concerned than we were about Kansas or Florida.  Syracuse is good, but so are we.


April 5th, 2013 at 11:35 AM ^

stuff is just the hot topic for the game hype.  With a week to think about a game, people are going to find the most compelling story lines and run with them.  For this Final Four the hot topics are Kevin Ware and the Syracuse zone.  It is a bizarre defense to play against however, and I think this analysis is interesting.


April 5th, 2013 at 11:43 AM ^

I think the difference is just how good their zone is this year. I read that this is the best D SU has had in the KenPom era. SU has lost mostly because their offense is not good outside the numerous fast breaks they get from TOs. Not to mention, their D is playing at an epic level in the tourney, and completely stymied IU. Now IU wasn't looking so hot in the tourney previous, but we have to expect some offensive regression against this zone. And the question is our D good enough to win a low scoring slug it out type game.


April 5th, 2013 at 12:29 PM ^

Luckily the Big Ten specializes in precisely that type of game, however, and just so happened to be the best conference in America this year.  I think just like every other game in the tourny, and really this season, this one will just come down to whether we show up or not.  It's more about what we do than what the other team is doing.


April 5th, 2013 at 3:07 PM ^

On the one hand, of course media hype is stupid.  It usually is.

On the other hand, Michigan struggled during the same part of the season that Syracuse did.  A lot of people are running the Orange down based on their 30-9 record, as if Michigan's 30-7 record is vastly better.  And, yes, while the Big Ten was strong this year, the Big East has plenty of talent and two of the Final Four teams.  During part of its rough stretch, the Orange were down senior James Southerland due to academic elgibility issues and then Freshman DeJuan Coleman was out for knee surgery.  They are both back, though Coleman is not seeing much playing time.  Before the rough stretch, SU gave Louisville its only home loss of the season.

Working at SU, I've followed the team pretty closely.  It's a bit of a mystery to me exactly what changed once the Big East tournament started, but they started playing really well.  I don't understand how they could lose to Georgetown by 11 at home, by 22 away, and then beat them in the tourney just six days after the 22 point loss.  But it was not just that game, something was different.  They lost to Marquette during the season but beat them handily in the NCAA tourney.  Indiana was not close.

People have made a lot about how Louisville's offense exploded on the Orange in the last 16 minutes of the Big East champsionship game, and that was amazing, but SU was ahead by 16 points before that started.  They were playing quite well.  The jekyll and hyde nature of the team is a bit strange.

I think Michigan is fully capable of shredding the zone.  If Stauskas shoots like he did against Florida, things will be good.  If Hardway gets hot, same deal.  Those things do not happen consistently, however.  In short, I find the outcome hard to predict, but I'm generally expecting Michigan to struggle but pull it out.




MI Expat NY

April 5th, 2013 at 11:59 AM ^

There's a big difference between the Stauskas three agaisnt Eastern and the Abell (?) three against Syracuse.  Stauskas' three was wide open because the guy in the bottom corner of the zone had to rotate out to the wing, freeing the baseline.  In the Indiana game, the bottom corner guy was caught down in the lane by a pin screen and was already sprinting to the close out before Abell even received the ball.  Nobody on Eastern was in a position to even challenge, let alone make the block, as your center is never responsible for a corner three in the zone.

I don't expect us to get a lot of looks that wide open against Syracuse, but if Burke draws the top two defenders, passes to a guy at the elbow extended, who the bottom corner defender comes up to defend, and Stauskus is alone in the corner, I'm not going to be worried about him getting his shot blocked.  


April 5th, 2013 at 12:17 PM ^

...and feed the ball to McGary, if Mitch has another double-double and Stauskas/Burke/THJ make their open shots Michigan wins!...if not, then we had a hell of a great season and I will proud of this team regardless the outcome


April 5th, 2013 at 2:08 PM ^

than the "2-3 Zone".  There are ways to beat it.  But you can't pull a Cody Zeller. Syracuse is not lacking in top talent.


Projected NBA draftees from teams in the Final Four

Goodman's 2013 NBA Draft Prospect Rankings
Rank Player School Year POS HGT WGT
6 Trey Burke Michigan Soph. PG 6-0 190
13 Michael Carter-Williams Syracuse Soph. PG 6-6 185
23 Glenn Robinson III Michigan Fr. SF 6-7 210
28 Gorgiu Dieng Louisville Jr. C 6-11 245
46 Jerami Grant Syracuse Fr. PF 6-8 220
49 Tim Hardaway Jr. Michigan Jr. SG 6-6 205
69 Nik Stauskas Michigan Fr. S 6-6 185
73 Rakeem Christmas Syracuse Soph. C 6-9 240
82 Russ Smith Louisville Jr. PG 6-0 165
93 James Southerland Syracuse Sr. SF 6-7 215


Michael Scarn

April 5th, 2013 at 12:47 PM ^

Am I the only one that looks at how far the zone comes off the baseline and sees opportunity for alley oops?  I know they have the athleticism and length to recover and defend that, but I gotta think that'll be there from time to time.


April 5th, 2013 at 1:02 PM ^

I feel like this will be a really challenging game, but I also feel like Beilein will have our guys really well-prepared to face it. I felt the same way before the VCU game, and our guys came right out and destroyed the "Havoc." It was apparent that they had been coached up and knew what to expect - they were prepared for the challenge and faced it well. I feel strangely confident that we'll have the same outcome against Syracuse.

I think the first team to 60 points will win the game.

Bo Glue

April 5th, 2013 at 2:16 PM ^

Lots of talk about defense but this team is well under a PPP on offense. Call me crazy, but I think if a team is going to beat us it will be with offense. I think our DREB rate will go a long way to determining the outcome of this game.


April 6th, 2013 at 12:36 AM ^

Because I think we will need production from three people.

One, obviously, is Trey Burke. He needs to be efficient, not spectacular. Syracuse will use that zone and try to neutralize him. He does not have to be the sharpshooter, as soon as he draw the double he can feed to the open man and they can roll from there. He needs to be the master coordinator. Kansas should not have to be a repeat performance.

Mitch McGary is number two. I would argue that without his sudden emergence, we wouldn't be in the Final Four. I know I know, Burke this and 30 ft shot that. But McGary has been constantly providing second opportunities, boxing out big men, and leading by example. If he can put up the same numbers, the game will be close. However, here is the kicker. McGary is the one player that cannot afford to have an off game. He has an off game, we lose.

And I am going to carefully select Nik Stauskas for the third spot. Something about his 6 for 6 shot performance was just flat out demoralizing for Florida. Maybe it was because this kid kept getting open. Maybe it was because a slow white guy kept making the shots. Maybe it was his supreme confidence. I don't know. But his "on" is more energizing than Hardaway or Robinson III. We need him to stay hot.

If all three produce, I think that Michigan is in the NC when it is all set and done. Just my opinion. Please feel free to let me known if/why you agree or disagree.