Boeheim Has Syracuse in the Zone
Boeheim's numbers are remarkable: in his 34th season, he has 823 victories, sixth on the all-time list and second among active coaches. He's won at least 20 games in 27 of the last 28 seasons (he only won 19 in 1996-97) and has an NCAA record 32 20-win seasons overall.
There's also three Final Four appearances and the 2003 national title.
This club, pegged for sixth in the preseason Big East poll, is 24-1 overall, 11-1 in the Big East and humming toward a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
A big reason for the Orange's success through the years is Boeheim's 2-3 zone defense. While most teams prefer man-to-man defenses, Boeheim's zone has been his trademark -- and a successful one. Which makes it somewhat strange that more teams haven't tried to use it.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and there's no better example in sports. If you're not stealing another team's successful strategy, then you're not trying.
In college football, the spread offense has, well, spread throughout the landscape. Yet, Syracuse's 2-3 zone curiously hasn't been copied.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said after Syracuse won the 2003 national championship that there was a "little buzz" nationally from other coaches about possibly incorporating that defense.
"I think a lot of coaches take a page from his [Boeheim's] book, not necessarily a 2-3, but from playing a zone," Brey said. "It really changes a rhythm [of the game]."
Brey said he's learned to adjust to whatever is successful, especially when competing in the Big East.
"I'm a 'whatever works guy' in this league," Brey said. "You've got to put your manhood away, especially in league play. You have to be able to steal wins and I think more and more guys are playing zone defense to change the rhythm of a game."
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin thinks more teams don't use it because if they're not successful in it, what do they use as a back-up defense. It's easier to adjust from changing from a man-to-man defense to a zone than vice-versa.
"At the end of day if your base defense is a 2-3 zone, the scary thing is what are you going to do -- this is my guess or my opinion on it -- if you're base is a 2-3 zone and you spend all your time on it and another team starts playing extremely well against it, what do you do?" Cronin said. "Most people take the approach of playing man-to-man and if it doesn't go well then go to some type of zone."
Cronin said some teams might use a zone to try and slow down a team, but the Orange uses the zone defense to their advantage.
Actually, Syracuse makes 10.6 steals per game, which ranks fourth in the nation.
Boeheim has won more Big East games ( 367) than any other coach, but this might be his finest work. The Orange are closing in on another Big East title with the regular-season title likely decided Feb. 27 when Villanova (21-2, 10-1) visits.
Syracuse is enjoying a banner year, despite the league being deeper this season than in past years.
"There's more good teams [in the league]," Boeheim said. "[Some] years there are six, seven, eight teams separated [from the rest]. This year I think you go down to 12 probably.
"You look at a team like Marquette (15-8, 6-5), a really good team that should have won two or three more games that got away from them. It's very difficult ... there definitely are more good teams [in the Big East] than there ever has been."
Syracuse opened the season with 13 wins before losing to Pittsburgh. It's the first time in school history the Orange have had two 10-game winning streaks in one season. Only four of their games have been decided by five points or less.
Wednesday's 72-67 victory against UConn was tied with 30 seconds remaining, the first time in Syracuse's 24 victories this season the score was tied in the final minute.
"This late in a season," Boeheim said, "to not be in a tie game with two minutes to go is unusual."
However, there's nothing unusual about Boeheim and Syracuse winning.
Contact FanHouse senior writer Brett McMurphy at email@example.com