Big East play has begun, and that means a more physical, intense brand of basketball. Syracuse took that to heart in their conference opening win against Rutgers, dominating on the defensive side of the court.
The zone was as aggressive and fluid as it had been in weeks, frustrating the Scarlet Knight offense. There was a more focused effort, more trapping, and stronger rotations.
"Yeah we had to be active," junior forward C.J. Fair explained. "Rutgers has some good shooters from the outside but then they have some strong players on the inside.
"For our forwards, we just had to discourage their perimeter shots and hustle back to help our centers out down low. I think we did a good job rotating on defense."
The rotations were crisp for the Orange, who forced 20 Rutgers turnovers. They also blocked 9 shots on the night, as the Orange bigs were aggressive inside. Add to that 11 steals and holding Rutgers to just 28% shooting in the first half, and Syracuse put together a complete defensive effort.
As Big East play gets underway, defense becomes more critical. Now Syracuse is facing teams that are familiar with how to attack the zone. Crisp rotations, aggressive traps, and focused efforts are critical. Any lapse and they will be exposed.
"You want to get a good start in the Big East," Fair added. "Our intensity was there. And when our intensity was there like that, it's hard to score on us whether you know the zone or not.
"We've got a long athletic zone and we're just getting started."
That length is critical as the Orange look towards the most difficult part of their schedule. The team understands what conference play means. Games are more physical and opponents are more talented. A focused defensive effort will be required each and every game.
"Definitely defense is the focus," freshman forward Jerami Grant admitted. "We have to play as good defense as we can. Just limit the other team's offensive rebounds and I think we'll be fine. The coaches and veterans have been talking about it all week up to this game.
"It's Big East games now and we have to be ready on the defensive end. I think tonight was a good start."