Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup between the Syracuse Orange and Duke Blue Devils is big for many reasons. But it’s odd because of the fact that it pits two zone-heavy teams against one another. ESPN explores how Duke got here and it ends up you can blame Jim Boeheim. That same zone Coach K employed for Team USA may now be the key to the Blue Devils overcoming SU in the NCAA Tournament.
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Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, then an assistant coach alongside Krzyzewski for Team USA, leaned over and made a suggestion. “We can’t stop them,” Boeheim said. “Let’s try the zone.” Boeheim figured Krzyzewski would shake his head sideways, but instead he responded with, “Let’s do it.”
Syracuse had no business winning that game. This was arguably the most talented Michigan State team of Tom Izzo’s career, complete with two lottery picks and four- and five-star depth throughout the roster. It still had no answer for the 2-3 zone. Izzo was so flustered he took his most talented player off the floor in favor of a sixth-year senior who averaged 0.6 points per game this season. Syracuse’s zone has that affect on people.
“It matters a ton, a ton,’’ Jim Hart, found of the Albany-based City Rocks AAU program, said. “Being a part of a winner is important to a lot of kids. They watch the games. ”No one on our team would have considered UMBC or Loyola a week ago,’’ Hart said. “Now? Now, they know who those teams are. It’s the same at all levels. Kids knew who Syracuse was a week ago, but now, now Syracuse is a winner.’’
The Orange have some good players, led by Tyus Battle and Frank Howard. The issue is whether Syracuse can score enough points to beat Duke. Syracuse averages 66.7 points per game, on pace to be its fewest since the 1962-63 season, when Jim Boeheim was a walk-on for the freshman team. The Orange are 7-1 as a double-digit seed in the NCAA tournament, the best such win percentage all time.
Since that game, the Orange lost their balance. Their ability to move the ball and create manageable second and third down situations crumbled as quickly as their record and by season’s end the team found themselves at home--missing out on the bowl season for a fourth straight year.
NCAA Tournament 2018: How Will Duke Deal With The Syracuse Zone? (Duke Basketball Report)