MBB : Olivero: SU needs to fix zone deficiencies after being exposed in 2 losses

first_imgSandwiched inside a random Carrier Dome locker Saturday, Mike Hopkins looked defeated. Slouching between the grated orange metal following Syracuse’s 83-72 loss to Villanova, the SU assistant coach Hopkins was in the same position as Arinze Onuaku 10 months earlier.Ten months ago, the former SU center Onuaku cried behind a towel while stowing away, finding solace in a single EnergySolutions Arena locker. At the Sweet 16 in Salt Lake City, Onuaku’s career came to an abrupt end. The No. 1 seed Orange had failed. As his teammates fielded questions about the upset loss to Butler, Onuaku tried to block everything out.Saturday, though, there was no hiding behind a towel for Hopkins. The loss wasn’t of the same magnitude. Syracuse’s season isn’t over. But still, the assistant coach sat there for a moment, scanning the locker room and thinking. For a team at a crossroads, it was perhaps the most telling image of reflection.That crossroads comes from the Orange’s inefficiencies in what was a vaunted 2-3 zone.‘In the first half, we were not good defensively,’ SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. ‘We let them into the lane and let them get open 3s.’AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe failure of the 2-3 zone was the prime reason Syracuse lost to Pittsburgh Monday, as the Orange went down 19-0 in the game’s first eight minutes. It was the prime reason Syracuse lost to Villanova, as eight Wildcat 3-pointers helped Villanova to 40 first-half points.Five days prior to Saturday’s Villanova game, Hopkins could sense that this exact dilemma was on the brink of arriving. The Panthers exposed the Orange’s 2-3 zone for the first time all year. It explicitly showed all future SU opponents an efficient way to get ahead of Syracuse.‘What a lot of teams do,’ Hopkins said in Pittsburgh, ‘is they watch the tape, and they do it the same way. We are going to have to do a better job keeping those guards out of the lane because Villanova is a pretty good team.’Saturday, with a season-high 11 3-pointers, Villanova’s guards rarely got in the lane. The Wildcats pounced. But they didn’t do it in the same way as Pittsburgh. Rather, the opposite.And when watching the film, opponents can couple it with the grim reality of statistics. Pittsburgh and Villanova were polar opposites for this SU 2-3 zone. Against the Panthers, Nasir Robinson and company bullied SU for 32 points in the paint. Against Villanova, the Wildcats registered only two points in the paint at halftime, as 18 of their first 24 points came from behind the arc.Syracuse’s suffocating zone failed against two different approaches, and Hopkins’ worst nightmare came to fruition. Until the deficiencies in the zone are quelled, the Orange won’t be the top-five team it should be.In five days, SU’s zone defense was gutted. Now, instead of just watching the tape of the Pittsburgh loss, Seton Hall and the rest of SU’s 10 regular-season opponents will have two games to watch. Two different classes and lessons to be learned on how to attack the zone.That is a real cause for concern. That is the main cloud above Syracuse’s collective heads, as well as the heads of Boeheim and Hopkins.With Hopkins in the locker like Onuaku 10 months ago, the scene after Saturday’s Villanova game bore a resemblance to postgame Butler for SU’s coaches and players.Villanova lit up the Orange to hand SU its second consecutive loss. An 18-0 start to the season was forgotten, replaced instead by a losing streak. Questions remain to be answered.The paramount answer this team is searching for now is one that was on full display in front of 33,736 at the Dome Saturday and one that had Hopkins and others sitting coldly next to and in lockers.Will SU’s zone rehabilitate?If it does, this Syracuse team is one talented enough to prevent a repeat of Onuaku’s scene, not in January but March. And despite the frustrating loss Saturday, Boeheim still has hope.‘We can get there, but right now we’re not good enough to beat a top-five team,’ Boeheim said. ‘I think we can get better, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us.’Tony Olivero is the development editor at The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at [email protected] Comments Published on January 23, 2011 at 12:00 pmcenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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