Everyone always gives a lot of well deserved lip service to Boeheim as the master of the 2-3 zone, but have you ever heard anyone specifically put Jimmy’s offensive coaching style under the microscope?
What got me thinking about this was seeing the UConn women’s team play following our loss to the Johnnies in the garden. After the game, they let everyone stick around to see the Ladystorm (or whatever they’re called) take on the lady Huskies immediately afterwards. Let me tell you, seeing those ladies play, especially after our ugly loss, was humbling. Almost every trip down the court involved at least 4 quick passes in the half court set, and culminated with someone who was open (or facing a defender that wasn’t set yet) taking a traditionally “good” shot. No one except the point guard ever seemed to hold the ball for more than a second or two. And since they can’t consider dunking, their layups are totally automatic. I left with a big crush on these ladies’ fundamentals. Quickly, I started noticing a similar style of play on certain men’s teams. Watching Notre Dame’s 63 point first half dismantling on January 30, the buckets they were hitting weren’t lucky shots. They were open shots. And they were making lots of quick passes to get them. So I started to wonder… what offense are we playing?
Now, I’ve been watching Syracuse basketball consistently for the last 20 years, and this question has always lingered in the back of my mind, waning when we’re playing well but coming to the forefront when we’re struggling. I’m obviously not a coach, and I can’t dissect 20 years of Syracuse offensive schemes in any sort of technical way, so I can only come at this from the fan perspective.
In the half court, the scoring has typically been attributable to one player hitting an teammate in scoring position with a single pass, or delivering on their go-to shot by beating their set defender. Rather than run an offensive scheme, Boeheim seems to give his guys a few basic plays to work with, and generally allows them to take turns trying to make something happen within that framework. This works a lot of the time because our players are so talented. But what does this say about Jim Boeheim’s offensive coaching?
The fair conclusion to make is probably that he’s more of a hands-off, let them play kind of guy, which has been said before. He recruits guys that he thinks can excell when given a green light to create, and lets them do their thing. So down the stretch in tight games, we’ve seen a lot of clear-outs for the go-to guy - Gerry’s 3 off a terrenceroberts.com high screen, Hak’s inside fade-away, Melo squaring up his defender and doing whatever he wanted - these have been the primary go-to shots for each of the last three years. Which gets to my point that we seem to be a “go-to-guy offense,” that we live and die by having at least one person with that dominant move.
The reason why I’m focusing on this right now is that the traditional model doesn’t seem to be working with this year’s players. In the half court, there’s been a lot of 1-on-5 basketball down the stretch, with guys trying to force bad shots. We just don’t have the consistent go-to guy. Nichols is frequently brilliant, but he occasionally disappears and is not the same lock to beat his man and score or draw a foul on any given play. We’re scoring points well in transition, but in the half court, these guys are going with the traditional “taking turns trying to make something happen” Syracuse game, but without the offensively dominant guys who can make that work.
What we do have are five guys that can legitimately shoot the 3, in Nichols (45!%), Devendorf (38%), Rautins (36%), Wright (34%, though over 40% a week ago), and Gorman (50% on 12-24). Have we ever been able to say this about another Syracuse team?
So look, you know those undersized (usually mid-major) teams that rain 3’s all day, extend the defense, and occasionally hit their mediocre big man with an assist just to keep the defense honest? I see no reason why the ‘06-’07 Orange couldn’t be an amazing version of those teams, since we’re bigger, quicker, and stronger than those guys. Good, fast perimeter passing to guys who can hit the open jumper. Emphasis on the fundamentals, waiting for good shots, and playing the game that suits your skills instead of relying on dominant athleticism. More like the, (yes, I said it) UConn women.