For some coaches, trying to solve the Syracuse Orange 2-3 zone is like trying to find the solution to the Rubik's cube. When the zone is active with the right pieces in the place it's virtually impossible to attack. Let's take a look at how one of the great ones -- Roy Williams -- has historically attacked the 2-3 zone.
First, let's start with a game that you surely remember. Williams and Jim Boeheim once met in New Orleans in 2003. Here's one of the sets Williams ran over a decade ago.
Here, Nick Collison has the ball at the top of the key and is about to pass the ball to the wing. Notice that Kirk Hinrich (guard) is between Carmelo Anthony and Jeremy McNeil. He's about to set a back screen on Gerry McNamara for Jeff Graves (No. 42).
Hinrich sets the screen and Kansas is looking for the lob here. McNeil is asleep at the wheel but recovers on the play while Carmelo slides over to break up the lob if need be. One option for Kansas is to throw the skip pass to the opposite wing, but they're really looking for the lob or for Hinrich here. McNamara is about to be screened again, this time by Collison.
The read is now to get Hinrich a look up top for three. It looks like he's about to wide open for three buthe decided not to shoot, drove the lane and ended up missing a floater.
Nonetheless, North Carolina will run this set tonight to get Marcus Paige -- North Carolina's best shooter and arguably best player -- open looks.
Let's continue on with something from more recent memory.
This is from last year's game when Syracuse played at the Dean Dome. Paige is passing the ball to Justin Jackson. Along the baseline Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson are cross screening on Rakeem Christmas and Tyler Roberson
North Carolina is trying to hit J.P. Tokoto (then No. 13) for the lob. Syracuse does a good job of defending this. Christmas and Roberson are too deep for North Carolina to throw the lob. Since it isn't there, Meeks flashes high post and we all know what can be done from there.
What you will see a great deal of tonight is North Carolina screening the top of the zone. In one of their sets, they set an inside screen on the ball defender and look to attack. See what I'm talking about below.
Joel James (No. 42) sets a screen on Ron Patterson for Paige. Paige has options here. Patterson has to fight through the screen and keep Paige in front but if he doesn't Cooney is forced defend Paige. Patterson can not go under the screen, which he doesn't, because Paige is a shooter. If Cooney doesn't commit Paige can go right down broadway for a floater or pass if Christmas commits.
Paige chooses to swing to Tokoto. As Cooney was playing good defense, Michael Gbinije comes up to defend until Cooney can bump him down. Paige also could have ball reversed for an open three on the opposite wing. Once James screens, he then rolls to the high post.
Tokoto throws it to James high post and from there he either has an open jumper or if Christmas commits or he can drop it down Isaiah Hicks.
North Carolina will run three out and two in and will screen the heck out of the zone tonight. Maybe more than anything else, UNC will look to push the ball up the floor, even on Syracuse made baskets, to try to beat the zone before it gets set. Syracuse has actually been effective at getting back down the floor and playing defense before an opponent can beat them down the court, but don't be surprised to see North Carolina get a few quick baskets by getting out in transition even on made buckets. Expect North Carolina to pound the ball inside to try to get it's cadre of big men to own the game in the paint.
So there you have it. When watching the game tonight you can tell your friends what North Carolina is running. Enjoy.