Men's Baketball

Williams prepares Tar Heels for 2-3 zone

Roy Williams wasted no time addressing the question that was on everyone’s mind during his press conference Friday afternoon.

He discussed Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone before even being asked about it.

“Yesterday we worked on it,” Williams said. “We’re going to work on it awfully hard today, too. I think it was time to work on it, for sure.”

North Carolina (10-5, 0-2 Atlantic Coast) visits the Carrier Dome Saturday at noon to take on Syracuse (15-0, 2-0) and its 2-3 zone. It’s a zone defense Williams faced in the 2003 National Championship when he was the head coach at Kansas, and one he’s especially impressed with this year.

“If I could get my club to play zone defense like that,” Williams said, “I would never play man-to-man either.”

Syracuse has limited its opponents to 59.3 points per game, a mark essentially even with that of last year’s Final Four team. Teams have shot just 41.2 percent overall and 33.1 percent from downtown against SU this season.

One area the Orange’s opponents have exposed the zone is by taking and making 3-pointers in bulk, though, as opponents have hit 7.4 3s per game. Virginia Tech made seven in SU’s 72-52 win on Tuesday, which helped the Hokies hang around in the first half.

But Williams insists that pulling up from beyond the arc isn’t the most efficient method to crack the zone. UNC has hit just 31.5 percent of its 3s, including 5-of-21 in a loss to Miami on Wednesday.

A balanced offense is the better approach, he said, because if an opponent only tries to make outside shots, Syracuse will extend its defense even more and alter the release.

“Instead of shooting from your 3-point line,” Williams said, “you’re shooting from the NBA 3-point line, then you’re shooting from somebody else’s 3-point line and then half court.”

Unlike in years past, Williams said, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim is solely using the zone this season. He’s sprinkled in doses of man-to-man sporadically in other seasons, but this year it’s exclusively the zone.

Tar Heels forward J.P. Tokoto said the most difficult thing about the zone is that you can’t simulate it in practice. Outside of Tyler Ennis, Syracuse’s four starters are 6-foot-4 or taller, and C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant and Rakeem Christmas have extremely long arms.

The Orange forces 9.5 steals a game, which is 12th in the country, so Tokoto knows UNC will be in for a challenge.

“The passes we’re making right now probably won’t be there,” Tokoto said, “so we’ve got to be smart.”

  • Joe

    Syracuse hasn’t played a possession of man-to-man since the second half of the Maine game in the 2009-2010 season. There’s no need to address it all anymore. They don’t play it, and they don’t practice it. Wasting your time even writing about another coach saying this year they’re exclusively playing zone. You won’t ever see a possession of man-to-man until Hop takes over (who has already said on a Twitter chat that he’ll use both). No need to discuss it ever again until that time comes

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