Syracuse's Zone Presents Challenge For U-M

Syracuse's infamous 2-3 zone is major focus as No. 17 Michigan (5-1) prepares for the Orange (5-1) tonight at the Criselr Center.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Preparing for Jim Boeheim’s infamous 2-3 zone defense is one thing. Playing against it is another matter altogether.

Syracuse’s zone is built around a simple scheme with a lot of complexities. The Orange utilize their length in lanes to cause havoc in the passing lanes. That’s what they do. It’s tough for opposing offenses, even intimidating. But ultimately – its effective.

“It’s a lot different,” U-M guard Spike Albrecht said of his first impressions of the Syracuse zone. “Everyone sees it and is like, ‘Oh, it’s just a 2-3 zone -- this and that.’ They do a really good job with it. It’s not like most peoples 2-3 zone, they get out there, they extend. They got tremendous length.”

Albrecht, of course, is speaking of his first experience playing against SU’s zone. When Michigan met the Orange in the national semifinals of the 2013 NCAA tournament. U-M beat Syracuse, 61-56, to advance to the NCAA championship game.

Squaring off in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, No. 17 Michigan (5-1) plays host to Syracuse (5-1) at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Crisler Center.

The two teams, however, are a lot different than the last time they met. While select players remain from their 2013 match-up, the zone remains intact for the ‘Cuse.

"It's a puzzle,” U-M coach John Beilein said. “It's a puzzle that even if you figure it out, you still have to shoot the ball over length and that's a big thing."

Length is what Syracuse has plenty of. The Orange starting frontline is bigger than most. And are led by 6-foot-9 senior Rakeem Christmas and 6-foot-10 freshman Chris McCullough, which poses problems for the smaller U-M front court.

“We’re going to have our hands full,” Albrecht said, who is shooting 42.9 percent from three. “We just got to make sure we do a good job of executing and passing the ball around. And making sure we’re trying to get the ball in the paint and get some easy shots.”

Collectively, Michigan has made 53 three-pointers this season at a 44.5 percent rate. And will need to hit close to their season average of 8.8 makes per game to challenge the Orange zone.

“Just being ready to shoot when you get it,” guard Caris LeVert said. “Being ready to shot fake. Trying to get in the middle and things like that. Kind of normal zone principals. Just know that that their zone is a lot longer and a lot quicker.”

In the 2013 match-up, U-M had Mitch McGary, who played brilliantly in the win. McGary stood in the middle of the zone all night, picking the zone apart making the extra pass to open Wolverine shooters.

While McGary is now gone -- the logic remains the same.

“The middle part of any zone is always the weakness,” Albrecht said. “Just got to get the ball in there, and make sure we’re just not passing the ball around outside and settling for three’s. Because we don’t want to fall into that trap.”

The Michigan Insider Top Stories