Miami — If it’s not Jim Boeheim’s scowl or that big, orange mascot, it’s probably the 2-3 zone that first comes to mind when thinking Syracuse basketball.
And it has been that way for years. For everybody.
Unlike just about any other program in the country — Princeton’s back-cutting offense or West Virginia’s relentless press also come to mind — the Orange are known, year after year, for finding extreme length and terrific athletes and plugging them into a highly active and effective 2-3 zone defense that creates fits for opposing offenses.
Even though Bill Self’s Kansas teams have faced the Syracuse zone just once (in a 2008 loss) and Self has not coached against Boeheim at any of his other stops, the 15th-year KU coach, as an admirer of Boeheim’s, has his thoughts about how to attack it when these two square off in the Hoophall Miami Invitational at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at American Airlines Arena.
“We have to come up with some ways to take advantage of our strengths, which would be our perimeter shooting,” said Self, whose team is shooting .452 from 3-point range through the season’s first six games. “Still, a big part of attacking the zone is attacking the high post area, as well. We’ve got to do a good job where we force them to get to shooters, but at the same time, be able to attack inside of it.”
Explained more simply by KU sophomore Mitch Lightfoot: “Basically, be where they’re not.”
This particular KU team, which is ranked No. 2 in the country after racing out to a 6-0 start, has not seen much zone defense this season.
Kentucky’s John Calipari revealed after KU’s win over the Wildcats at the Champions Classic in Chicago that his initial plan against Kansas was to play nothing but zone. But Calipari’s assistants talked him out of it and the Wildcats played man-to-man the entire night.
A couple of other 2017-18 foes have thrown zone looks at KU for a few possessions here and there, hoping to slow the game down. But, other than that, the guard-heavy Jayhawks who have displayed hot shooting and exquisite ball movement thus far have faced mostly man-to-man defenses.
“Maybe it’s because we…