Western Michigan knows Syracuse’s 2-3 zone after matchups with EMU

first_img Published on March 19, 2014 at 10:56 pm Contact Stephen: [email protected] | @Stephen_Bailey1 Facebook Twitter Google+ It’s about that time of year when the nonconference opponents return, and Syracuse’s 2-3 zone buckles down.The Jamie Dixons of the coaching realm that know the intricacies of Jim Boeheim’s zone are placed in other regions, and less-prepared substitutes fall victim to the Orange’s signature defense.But Western Michigan isn’t one of those teams. And Steve Hawkins isn’t one of those coaches.“If there is one tiny advantage of going into this Syracuse team, it’s the fact that we have faced a similar zone,” Hawkins said over the phone Tuesday.The Broncos have faced conference foe Eastern Michigan’s 2-3 zone twice. Run by former SU assistant coach Rob Murphy, the EMU defense is a near replica of Boeheim’s brainchild, complete with the best field-goal percentage defense in the nation and 7-foot SU transfer Da’Shonte Riley in the middle.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThose matchups have allowed the 14th-seeded Broncos (23-9, 14-4 Mid-American) to develop an inside-out game, which they will bring into their NCAA Tournament second-round game against No. 3-seed Syracuse (27-5, 14-4) on Thursday at 2:45 p.m. Shayne Whittington, a 6-foot-11 senior center, will be operating in the paint, while senior guard and leading scorer David Brown heads a cast of capable shooters.But even Hawkins knows that just because the EMU zone looks the same as SU’s, doesn’t mean it is.“They don’t let you take the ball to the spot that you’d normally take it or that you want to attack a zone from,” Hawkins said. “They don’t allow the ball to get there.“I heard a quote from (ESPN analyst) Jay Bilas not too long ago about how there has probably been less talk about brain surgery than there has been about how to beat Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. And I can see why.”In the first matchup against Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan managed just 37 points. The Broncos made just 12 field goals, shot 25 percent from 3-point range and crumpled behind a 3-for-12 performance from Whittington.But in the rematch, Whittington connected on 8-of-15 for 22 points and 11 rebounds. WMU shot 5-of-16 from beyond the arc and scored 75 points to the Eagles’ 67.“They have the tools to compete,” Murphy said of Western Michigan, “but I think ultimately the length and the athleticism of the zone will bother them much more than they’re probably anticipating.”Still, the Broncos proved to be a team capable of beating a good zone, and SU forward C.J. Fair compared them to ACC bottom-feeder Boston College.BC had then-undefeated Syracuse down eight with 14 minutes to go at Conte Forum on Jan. 13, and beat the Orange 62-59 in overtime on Feb. 19.“Then they’ve got a good inside presence with a couple of post players, so it keeps your defense honest,” Fair said. “You’ve got to respect the 3-pointer, and you’ve got to battle with them inside.”After Whittington, Western Michigan doesn’t have the size and length to match up with Fair, Rakeem Christmas and Jerami Grant. And after Brown — who averages 19.4 points and dropped a career-high 32 in the MAC tournament championship game — the Broncos don’t have a dominant perimeter threat.But the two are capable of breaking down the Orange’s zone. They’re the keys. And they bring a different experience level than most opponents Syracuse is used to opening the NCAA Tournament against.Said Hawkins: “Normal zones we were able to carve up pretty good. And this is not a normal zone.”–Asst. copy editor Sam Blum and staff writer David Wilson contributed reporting to this story Commentslast_img

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