On the Sidelines: The 2-3 Zone

Known throughout and outside the college basketball community, Syracuse's 2-3 zone has become a piece of basketball history. Autry focuses on this unique element of the Orange with CuseNation.com inside.

Since its institution, Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone has been both revered and criticized.

Nevertheless, in his 37th season, Syracuse's men's head basketball coach continued his belief in the zone, placing it on the floor once again.

So what is it about Boeheim's zone that makes its effectiveness a timeless commodity?

"The one thing about it is we always evolve," said Boeheim's current assistant coach and former player Adrian Autry. "And he's (Boeheim) evolved it and made adjustments and changes based on each year how teams attack it and where we may struggle at."

But other teams play the 2-3 zone, so why have other programs not seen the success that Syracuse has?

"It's just not a straight 2-3 [zone]," Autry offered. "I think it's a zone that can bend and flex. Sometimes it looks like a man [defense], sometimes it doesn't, but we have a lot of our man-to-man principles and it's a very aggressive 2-3. It's not a normal defense where people, when you think of zone, they think you're laid back and whatever. We're highly aggressive."

The aggressiveness showed in a relentless effort the Orange made to right their path after a late-season losing streak that featured defeats at the hands of the Louisville Cardinals, Marquette Golden Eagles, and two by longtime rival the Georgetown Hoyas, all of whom sat atop the Big East Conference at the time of play. In the Big East Conference Tournament that followed their trying times, Syracuse held three consecutive opponents under 65 points en route to the conference championship game.

"Coming into the year we knew that we were gonna be probably a very, very good defensive team just based on what Michael Carter[-Williams] had done the year before," Autry stated. "Brandon [Triche] was our best rebounder so we knew we had our two best rebounders in our guard position. And C.J. [Fair]'s always been solid and with Baye [Keita] and those guys we knew we were gonna be good defensively. Offensively, was always gonna be, how we gonna generate enough points?"

Stepping up to aid the 2-3 zone during these three games was a burst of offense that featured then senior now alum James Southerland making 12 of his first 15 three-point attempts.

Following their strong performance in their final Big East Conference Tournament, the Orange 2-3 zone continued to impress.

"We work on it, and we make adjustments," Autry expressed. "It's kind of our identity now and they've got a lot of positive feedback and people know, so I think the guys buy into it.

In all of their first four matches in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, Syracuse did not allow a single opponent over 60 points.

Looking at the prowess of the Orange defense now and in previous years, Autry shared whether the personnel or the blueprint plan weighs more in the success of the 2-3 zone. "The personnel makes the defense, because if you don't have the guys that can make the movements, then the defense is not as good," said Autry. "The concepts are great. Coach [Jim Boeheim] is a genius. His concepts are great. The things that we do out of it, little small things, are great. But you still need those guys, those athletes, those type of players to make those plays and to make those coverages and make those reads."

Despite success, the argument that opposing teams get too many open looks at the basket has ceased to fade away. Autry offered a rebuttle, stating, "We're very quick. We close out, play above the rim. We contest everything...It's an aggressive defense. We don't wanna give anybody anything. People say, 'Ahh you're gonna get wide open shots.' You wanna get wide open shots but we're not giving you wide open shots. We wanna contest every shot whether it's from a baseline or from a three-point-line, so it's a very aggressive defense that you have to be there and be on the spot. We don't want anyone taking any open shots."

But what about switching to a 3-2 zone when playing teams that are strong from the outside, placing one more body up front or try man-to-man?

"Coach [Jim Boeheim] always talks about sometimes teams play multiple defenses and the theory is if you play multiple defenses, then you probably not really great at one," Autry expressed. "And I think this is what we do, so we spend a lot of time on it and I think the adjustments that we make even though they may be small and the normal fan may not be able to see it, sometimes it may be a 3-2 depending on the format, depending on who they have on the wing. It's always personnel-based, sometimes, how you make those changes."

Speaking of changes, the Orange have not or do not seem to be looking to switch to another defense. The argument used against the 2-3 zone can be reversed upon itself. Though some believe only utilizing one defense makes Syracuse too predictable, only having one defense means the team practices solely on it without the confusion of addition defensive schemes, giving them more time to create and learn its intricacies.

"The guys do it day in and day out," Autry shared. "They can almost do it with their eyes closed and I think that makes a great defensive team just like a man-to-man team. They (opponents) play man-to-man. They have their principles. They have their slides. They have their concepts of what they want to do. And a good defensive team, in general, they know it's nothing that's changing. They know everything and they're very comfortable with it and I think that's what makes our zone so good is that everyone knows their slides. They know the reads. We go over it every day and we work on it and we break it down and we put different scenarios and different things in it so I think they're just really comfortable with it and I think we spend a lot of time on it. A lot time on it."

This past season, the 2-3 zone gave tremendous aid to the Orange offense. On both strong shooting and struggling outings, the zone gave Syracuse an opportunity to remain in the game.

Some refer to that as time well spent.

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