Men's Basketball

Syracuse men’s basketball film review: Guards’ miscues in the 2-3 zone

Jessica Sheldon | Staff Photographer

Jim Boeheim has frequently called out his guards poor play as part of the reason that the 2-3 zone isn't working well.

Through 14 games, Syracuse’s most glaring weakness has been its defense. The Orange’s patented 2-3 zone has failed in two of its last three games as SU allowed 93 points to St. John’s and 96 to Boston College.

SU head coach Jim Boeheim has harped all season about his guards’ inability to cover the perimeter by locating shooters and rotating correctly. The issues came to a head on Sunday when the Eagles hit 16 3-pointers, tying a record for Syracuse opponents.

“Our problem is our guards defensively,” Boeheim said. “They’re just not finding players. They’re not finding the shooters. We’re just not doing a good job. We can’t let people have open shots. Wide open. Wide open. They’re not even just open. They’re wide open.”

The way the zone is played, SU typically shuts down opponents from behind the 3-point arc. In the Orange’s six losses this year, though, opponents are shooting 43.1 percent from 3.

Here’s a breakdown of two major issues — defending the inside-out pass from the post and defending the pass off a drive — Syracuse’s guards have faced, both of which were evident against BC on Sunday.

(All pictures courtesy of ESPN3)

Inside-out passing from post

Example 1

In this example, Syracuse was able to set up its defense at the start of the possession. The ball was dumped into the post and Tyler Lydon defended BC’s Connar Tava. As Tava spun toward the baseline, Jerome Robinson (green rectangle) darted to the corner and drew the attention of Battle (blue circle). Tava passed to Nik Popovic, who stood on the opposite side of the lane along the baseline.


Once Popovic caught the ball in the post, he had options. Battle followed Robinson around the court and to the corner, which left John Gillon (yellow circle) with a significant amount of space to cover at the top of the key.


Popovic spun around and read the defense. Lydon had the option of either sticking with Tava on the baseline — which would have freed up Andrew White to guard A.J. Turner at the top of the key — or come at Popovic with a hard double team to try and crowd his vision and the passing lane. But Lydon rotated late toward Popovic in a weak effort. It didn’t impact the pass at all and it kept White stuck in no man’s land as he had to stay down low to keep an eye on Tava. Gillon mirrored the Eagles’ Ky Bowman, which left Turner open for 3 at the top of the arc. Popovic found him and Turner hit the 3.


Example 2

In this example, Gillon (yellow circle) attempts to trap a Boston College player in the corner as soon as the Eagles push the ball up the court. That left Syracuse’s defense vulnerable once BC got the ball back up to the top of the arc seven seconds into the possession. White (purple circle), who briefly played guard on Sunday, was forced to shift toward Gillon’s side of the zone.


Once BC’s Jerome Robinson caught the pass from the corner, he penetrated toward the center of the floor. Both Gillon and White chased him across the middle to try and stop the drive.


Gillon and White were somewhat effective in forcing Robinson to pass the ball to Connar Tava in the post. But their lack of positioning on opposite sides of the court ultimately cost SU as they left the wing open. Tava quickly found Jordan Chatman (white rectangle) with lots of space on the right wing.


Gillon was slow to recover back to the wing where he originally came from and Chatman canned the 3.


Kick out off drive

Example 1

Here, Jerome Robinson was able to drive (red arrow) right past Howard after getting him off balance with a shot fake. Howard (orange circle) fell for it and Robinson dribbled to the right of him. With Howard getting beat, Battle (blue circle) cheated in a little bit closer to the lane. A key responsibility of the guards in the zone is to prevent opponents from driving and getting inside the paint. But BC did that consistently.


Once Robinson beat Howard, options opened up. A.J. Turner, as he did throughout the game, set up on the wing. With Howard beat and Battle sucking in to help against the drive, BC’s offense had its chances to kick out for not only a 3-pointer, but a wide-open 3.



Battle wasn’t quick enough to close out against Turner on the perimeter. Turner took the open 3 from the left wing and made it.


Example 2

This time, Ky Bowman drove from the wing rather than up top, but the play still resulted in Syracuse’s guards dropping down too low and having to scramble to prevent the 3. The Eagles had just inbounded the ball when Bowman attacked from that spot on the court. The drive attracted White (purple circle) and Gillon (yellow circle) to drop down.


With Bowman getting inside the paint, all five Syracuse defenders were sucked near the lane. The perimeter was left empty and Jerome Robinson set up to catch and shoot.


Bowman sent the pass to the top of the key, forcing White and Gillon to rotate to the top, but their movement was too slow and Robinson hit the 3. It was another play where the guards dropped in when the ball got inside and then weren’t fast enough get back out to defend the 3.


To see all of Boston College’s made 3-pointers, see the video below:


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