When we last left our Hoyas
John Caprio threw an alley-oop to Aaron Bowen. Needless to say, Georgetown beat South Florida. Badly.
The ultimate villain. Some things never change with Syracuse–Boeheim’s always on the sideline, the defenders are always in a 2-3 zone–but each iteration of the Orange has its own unique characteristics. At 23-1 and ranked second in the country, this season’s model may be the best that Georgetown has faced in recent years.
The key to this Syracuse squad isn’t any one player, and that’s what makes them so dangerous. Nine Orange players are averaging more than 10 minutes per game during Big East play, and that group doesn’t include freshman Michael Carter-Williams, who dropped 13 points on St. John’s on Saturday. Sophomore guard Dion Waiters is probably the team’s best player, and he’s the sixth man.
“They’re one of, if not the deepest team in the country. They have quality depth,” head coach John Thompson III said. “There’s no drop-off from the second team and, in some positions, the third team.”
Key to the game
Transition defense. One of the many benefits of Syracuse’s depth is that they have no problem running all game, and their athleticism from top to bottom on the roster means they can do so very, very well. In fact, there’s often little an opponent can do once Dion Waiters or Kris Joseph gets behind them with the ball in the open court. But to beat Syracuse, the Hoyas need to minimize their ability to get out and run in the first place.
“They’re great in transition because they’re great at causing turnovers,” Thompson said. “You have to protect the ball. You can’t take poor shots, because bad shots lead to quick transition opportunities for them. Being good on offense and not turning the ball over on offense is a key to your defense against Syracuse.”
Thanks to the pairing of their length and suffocating zone defense, the Orange lead the country in turnover margin at +6.9 per game (no other team is above +6). Georgetown obviously needs to hustle to keep up with Syracuse in transition, but making smart decisions on offense could have an even greater impact in confining the Orange to the halfcourt.
Player to watch
Henry Sims. It’s hard to single out any one player when 18 different athletes will probably play meaningful minutes on Wednesday, but the senior big man may just be the key to the Hoyas’ offense.
In theory, solving Syracuse’s zone defense is easy. It’s no different than attacking any other zone: you want to get the ball into the middle and either get an open interior shot or force the zone to collapse and kick it back out. In practice, however, the Orange’s size and the near-perfect execution Boeheim teaches makes it difficult to execute that plan.
“Against them, I think you have to get it inside and then see what’s there,” Thompson said. “Now, it’s hard—they’re big, they’re long. Some teams you can say, ‘Boom, we’re going to throw it inside,’ but it’s hard to get it in [against Syracuse].”
When they traveled to the Carrier Dome last year, Thompson designated Chris Wright as his man in the middle of the zone, and the senior point guard facilitated the coach’s first ever win at Syracuse. Thompson isn’t revealing his strategy for this year’s game before 7 p.m. Wednesday night, but Sims is a good bet to take on that role. All the improvements that the senior has made to his game this year make him well-suited for the job. He’s arguably the best passer on the team (he leads the Hoyas with 3.6 assists per game) and he’s nearly perfected a mid-range jumper that forces teams to cover him outside the paint. And just by virtue of being 6-foot-10, Sims can see over the zone in a way Wright could only dream of.
“I take a lot of pride in that,” Sims said of his potential to defeat the zone. “It’s going to be my responsibility—as well as probably Otto, Hollis, and Nate. I’m just going to do my best to limit the turnovers and just make sure we get quality shots.”