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.
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:
- adding ball screens to disrupt the zone's balance and get the guy in the high post open
- getting that high post guy to dump it down to the big once Riley showed to contest
- 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.
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.