Florida Faces Challenge in Syracuse Zone

The Gators will face another tough road test Friday night. Just over two weeks after playing at Ohio State, Florida travels to Syracuse to take on the Orange. The Gators have poured in three-pointers early in the season, but their high-powered offense will get its toughest test of the season while going up against the Syracuse zone defense.

"They do a great job," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "One of the reasons the zone is effective is they have great length and great size. They can alter shots around the basket. Their perimeter guys do a great job of getting out to shooters. Our guys have to be strong with the ball and take care of the ball."

On paper, it might seem like a good matchup for Florida. The Gators have made double digit three-pointers in all six games this season, including a season high 14 in a 96-70 win over Stetson on Monday. However, that's just what Syracuse what's to make its opponent do.

The 2-3 zone defense that Syracuse uses can be susceptible to giving up open three-pointers if its opponent penetrates and moves the ball well. That has to be the focus if the Gators are going to have success.

"I wish every team would play a 2-3 zone," Florida guard Mike Rosario said. "I love to play a 2-3 zone, so you can shoot threes. It's a very good zone we're going to play against. That's basically what Syracuse lives off."

The guards know they can't only take those threes. Even for a team like Florida with plenty of sharp shooters, the focus has to be on getting the ball inside to center Patric Young. If Syracuse comes down to double team him, Young has to be aware and pass the ball outside to the open man.

If the three-point attempts come after passes outside from Young, the Gators should be fine. However, if the ball doesn't go inside and they try to create their own three-pointers that way, Florida will be playing right into Syracuse's hands.

"We know you can't settle," Florida guard Kenny Boynton said. "That's what they want. They want you to hit your first two threes. They know you're not going to hit them all, and they try to capitalize on that. We've got to try to get the ball into Patric and penetrate."

It seems simple on paper. The Syracuse 2-3 matchup zone defense is what has made them an elite defense in college basketball under Jim Boeheim. For a team that has used the defense for so long, it should provide some weak spots on film.

However, Syracuse shifts the zone to its opponent.

"When you watch them play zone, a lot of people say they play the zone the same every time," Donovan said. "It's pretty clear they guard everybody a little differently. A lot of their zone is based on your personnel. If we have a non-three point shooter, they're probably not going to chase him out there. If Erving Walker does, they're probably going out there. A lot of the zone is adjusting to your personnel."

Since the 81-74 loss at Ohio State in mid-November, Donovan wants to see how his team has grown in road games. He thought Florida shot the ball too early in the shot clock in Columbus, instead of being patient and trying to work for a better shot.

That will be especially important against Syracuse. If the Gators take the first shot they like from the perimeter on Friday, it could be a long night.

"If you go out there and give it a steady diet of the same thing, they're going to figure out what you're doing," Donovan said. "I'm not opposed at all to taking threes, but you have to take what you create. We're going to have to make good decisions."

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