Sunday, March 31, 2013

In the Zone

With Syracuse in the Final Four, attention turns to its vaunted—and it is always referred to as "vaunted"—2-3 zone defense. Louisville, which might get to the Final Four again today, also plays a fair amount of zone defense.

Most coaches, including Bo Ryan, play a man-to-man defense, and play it exclusively. Many fans, and some sportswriters, gripe about this. They say it'd be good to have zone defense as an option, since it clearly can be played well. Why would a great coach like Bo Ryan turn up his nose at a defense that clearly works?

When Mike DeCourcey broached this topic on Twitter last night, the consensus among the philistines seemed to be that most coaches don't play any zone because it's not manly enough, or something. As if guys like Bo Ryan care about anything other than winning. And does anyone actually believe that Bo Ryan cares people's perception of him? Of course he does not. All he cares about is winning.

So why would a coach who cares only about winning refuse to even practice zone defense? There's an easy answer, and I think I'll let Chorl—er, Jim Boeheim explain it:
The short history of our zone is we started out as a man-to-man team with some zone and over the years our zone got better, but we still played man. The problem when you play man, you have to spend an hour on your man defense every day and when you play your preseason games, your non-conference games, if you're playing man your zone isn't getting better. 
So finally it dawned on me, after about 27 or 28 years, finally, takes me a while, that if we played zone all the time and didn't waste time playing man to man and put some wrinkles in the zone because we had more time to practice it, that our defense would be better.
The reason most coaches play only man-to-man is the same reason Boeheim plays only the vaunted 2-3 zone: because practice time is limited. If you don't specialize in a particular base defense, your chances of playing really good defense go down. That's the full story.

Just like Boeheim adds "wrinkles" to his zone, Bo Ryan adds wrinkles to his man-to-man defense to account for personnel and game situations. For example, a "man-to-man" defense that switches all screens looks a lot like a ... zone defense. And that's what the Badgers did all year this year.

It was amusing to me that while this conversation was happening on Twitter during the OSU - WSU game last night, OSU was on a 13-2 run—fueled almost exclusively by nervous turnovers (bad offense) from WSU. But suddenly WSU switched to a zone defense. Literally seven seconds later, OSU got a wide-open three pointer from the corner. It missed, but there was no box-out and OSU got an offensive rebound and putback attempt. That missed too, but there was another missed box-out and OSU got another offensive rebound and scored. WSU didn't play any more zone the rest of the game.

So you have to wonder—how much practice time did Gregg Marshall waste teaching his players how to play that awful zone defense that he used for one awful defensive possession? However much it was, it was too much.

1 comment:

  1. Good post. I saw that interview and had very much the same thought.