Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann knows it can be a painful experience attempting to game plan and execute against Syracuse’s stifling 2-3 zone defense.
“It’s like going to the dentist. And not just for cleaning,” Holtmann said.
In today’s ever-changing and increasingly unpredictable world, college basketball fans can take solace in one constant: Whether you love it or you detest it, head coach Jim Boeheim and his Syracuse men’s basketball team (3-2) will trot out onto the court in its patented 2-3 zone defense.
The main challenge for Holtmann this week: Find areas of vulnerability and put together a game plan that best allows his undefeated (6-0) and No. 16th-ranked Buckeyes to penetrate a suffocating style of play.
No. 16 Ohio State (6-0)
G — C.J. Jackson — Senior, 12.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.8 apg
G — Luther Muhammad — Freshman, 9.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.2 apg
F — Kyle Young — Sophomore, 6.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 0.8 apg
F — Andre Wesson — Junior, 7.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.5 apg
F — Kaleb Wesson — Sophomore, 14.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.2 apg
G — Tyus Battle – Junior, 17.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.2 apg
F — Oshae Brissett – Sophomore, 14.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.8 apg
G — Jalen Carey – Freshman, 9.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.0 apg
C — Paschal Chukwu – Senior, 5.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 0.0 apg
F — Elijah Hughes – Junior, 14.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.2 apg
One option to beat the zone is to shoot over the top of it, requiring Ohio State’s main offensive contributors, such as redshirt senior guard Keyshawn Woods to be sharp in their perimeter shooting on Wednesday night.
“As guards and shooters on the wings we have to be ready to shoot no matter what game it is, but especially this game though because there’s going to be a lot of opportunities to make 3s,” Woods said.
Woods has plenty of experience playing against Syracuse back in his days in the ACC at Wake Forest, where he went up against the Orange on a number of occasions.
He made it clear that this is the game where he wants to finally beat Syracuse.
“I mean I’m a competitor and I don’t like losing, and I’ve lost to them three times now and only beat them once, and the game we did beat them I got hurt, so in my eyes, I didn’t beat them,” Woods said. “So that’s why I really want this game.”
Option two is to pass the ball into the vacated middle of the zone which generally lies between the foul line and the top of the key.
Opposing teams have done well in the past to use this area as their base of operations, forcing Syracuse’s center to make a decision: staying where he is positioned around the basket and allowing the offensive player to get a clean shot off, or stepping out to contest the potential shooter and opening up passing lanes and access to the basket behind him.
The offensive player in the middle of the zone can also look to make a pass back out to the perimeter if a teammate finds his way open.
“It’s really important, as long as we can get the ball in the middle we will be fine,” Woods said. “If we get it in the middle, we’ll break down the zone because that’s when they really get spread out, and if we move and attack gaps, we’ll have the upper hand.”
Offensively, Syracuse boasts three scorers who average double figures per contest.
Junior guard Tyus Battle leads the way at 17.6 points per game and is the main offensive weapon for the Orange after deciding last spring to forego entry into the NBA Draft and return to the team for another season.
“He’s versatile and very aggressive on offense,” Woods said. “He’s going to get his at the end of the day and he can score at all three levels and we know from the scouting report and I know from playing against him in the ACC that he’s their go to guy, and he’s going to try to get his as much as possible, and we’ve got to maintain him.”
Battle is backed up by junior forward Elijah Hughes and sophomore forward Oshae Brissett who both average 14.8 points per game.
One area of concern that Holtmann stressed was rebounding. He noted his team’s struggles in that department and how that will be a key component of Wednesday night’s matchup.
Brissett and Hughes lead the way for the Orange on the boards, with senior center Paschal Chukwu also being a force around the basket at 7 feet 2 inches tall.
Chukwu injured his groin in last week’s game against Colgate and his status for Wednesday night’s matchup is up in the air.
If Chukwu can’t go, the Buckeyes will likely get a healthy dose a pair of sophomore forwards in Bourama Sidibe and Marek Dolezaj. Sidibe averages five points and five rebounds per game while Dolezaj averages more than three points a game to go with just over two rebounds per game.
Ohio State takes on Syracuse at home at 7:15 p.m. on Wednesday.