Man-up or zone out: SU’s inconsistent defense comes from two different techniques

September 16, 2020 0 Comments

first_imgDigna Strautmane jutted her arms up, perpendicular to the ground to contest a Wake Forest shot. The ensuing miss was rebounded near center court by Tiana Mangakahia, who fed a pass to a cutting Jasmine Nwajei en route to a fastbreak layup. On the next possession, Nwajei intercepted a pass got another layup.Against WFU this past Sunday, Syracuse turned a 21-point first half deficit, its largest of the season, into a 42-16 second-half run. Nwajei’s second basket cut the lead to single-digits. Later in the frame, she ripped the ball from a WFU player’s hands and SU took the lead on the ensuing possession.“We made one adjustment,” head coach Quentin Hillsman said of any halftime alterations, “we changed our defense.”SU deployed a half-court press, instead of its usual full-court press, and stumped WFU. When the Demon Deacons broke the pressure, the Orange settled into a man-to-man defense at times.Before the 2017-18 season kicked off, Hillsman labeled his defense as a “matchup zone.” Three months and 25 games later, Syracuse (18-7, 6-6 Atlantic Coast) occasionally switches between a man-to-man defense and its usual matchup 2-3 zone, still looking to find an opportune defensive scheme. Neither has been particularly effective on a consistent basis. SU has the 182nd-best scoring defense, allowing 65.4 points per game, fifth-worst in the ACC. Its average opponent field goal-percentage (40.4) is ninth in the conference.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe magic number in conference play is, seemingly, 70. Syracuse is 1-4 in games it concedes more than 70 points, and 5-2 when it holds opponents to less than 70. As SU looks to win its four remaining ACC matchups, and as Hillsman projects, comfortably make the NCAA Tournament, the defense will need to shape up.“It depends on where the ball is on the floor,” Hillsman said of the switch from man to zone defenses on Jan. 31, “who has the ball dictates it. It’s something we have to do to maintain our balance on defense and being able to get to a shooter or get to certain players.“There’s a lot of reasons why we (switch),” Hillsman said. “I can’t say one or two things that really dictate it.”Preferably, Hillsman wants his defense to morph from its full-court press to a zone scheme on each defensive possession, he said. This tactic prevents “cross-matching” — having a guard defend a forward as a result of switching schemes mid-play, Hillsman said. SU’s 2-3 zone puts guards, all of whom are shorter than 5-foot-11, near the 3-point arc and places bigs down low to safeguard the paint. Perfecting transitions between the pressure and zone provides balance to the defense.Switching from a full-court zone press to a half-court zone is easier than going from the press into a man-to-man defense, Mangakahia said, because it’s easier to guard an area of the floor rather than a single person. Flipping to a man-to-man scheme can be ineffective if the defense is unorganized.It also conserves energy, she said, since SU defenders don’t have to shadow players around the floor. The zone requires players to call out cutters, which places an emphasis on communication. Mangakahia, a first-year player who’s played 29 more minutes than any other SU player, knows the importance of understanding all facets of SU’s defense.“No matter who’s on the floor,” Mangakahia said, “(the press-to-zone switch) is (Hillman’s) go-to. … If you’re in the program, that’s what you need to expect to do when you get out on the floor. If you’re not good at pressing, or if you’re not good in a zone, then you need to work on that. He’s not going to change it.”During a game, Hillsman will pace the sidelines and shout out either “2-3,” or “man.” Sometimes, he will do it mid-possession. If he sees the shot clock ticking down, Hillsman said, he will call for a late man-to-man switch for a better shot at securing a rebound.The in-game deviation can be challenging on the fly, guard Isis Young said. The rapid rush to match up on an opposing player can lead to a shooter finding space behind the arc. SU’s opponents have connected on 31.7 percent of their 3-point chances.Wake Forest, a team that makes 3s at a 28.7-percent clip, recorded one-third of its first half points via the deep ball (5-for-11) on Sunday. SU let a team that entered the game scoring 68.3 points per game score 45 in a half.After the Stony Brook contest on Dec. 3, when the Seawolves shot 8-for-30 from deep, Hillsman said SU would switch to a man-to-man defense to prevent teams from exploiting the Orange’s zone with 3-pointers.“Sometimes, if we start getting stretched out in our zone,” Hillsman said after the game, “… and I can see that we are in front of players, we may go man.”At times, though, that can create problems on its own. While playing a man-to-man defense against Pittsburgh on Jan. 21, SU went down, 20-13, to a team that had just one conference win. Syracuse’s comeback attempt against Virginia Tech on Feb. 1 crumbled due to a poor interior defense that resulted from a shift to man defense.On Sunday, WFU made it a five-point game in the fourth quarter with an easy layup when SU was playing man defense. Following the score, the Orange went back into a zone and resumed stifling the home team. A few minutes later, playing tight defense on an inbound play forced WFU into a five-second violation that iced the game.“It’s about keeping pressure on the ball,” Hillsman said after the game.Syracuse has been searching for consistency in conference play since it started in late December.SU’s four remaining games, three of which come against teams with sub-.500 conference records, act as a test to iron out defensive issues and enter the ACC tournament without the pressure of still needing to earn an NCAA Tournament berth.— Sports Editor Andrew Graham contributed reporting for this article. Comments Published on February 12, 2018 at 9:25 pm Contact Nick: [email protected] | @nick_a_alvarez Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more