Syracuse’s famed 2-3 zone defense has frustrated many opponents in recent years. Over the past three games, however, the zone’s lack of success has led to confusion - and losses - for the Orange.
The ninth-ranked Orange try to avoid their first four-game losing streak in five years Saturday when they play a Marquette team also out to end a slump.
Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim has maximized his team’s length by using the 2-3 zone, going 76-18 since the start of the 2008-09 season. Syracuse (18-3, 5-3 Big East), though, has seen its defense come undone recently in the rigorous Big East and is facing its first four-game skid since Jan. 16-29, 2006.
While then-No. 5 Pittsburgh attacked the Syracuse zone in a 74-66 victory Jan. 17, Villanova and Seton Hall found success against the Orange from the perimeter. The then-No. 8 Wildcats hit 11 3-pointers in an 83-72 victory last Saturday at the Carrier Dome, and the Pirates made 10 of 17 from beyond the arc in a 90-68 rout - the Orange’s worst home loss since an 85-61 defeat to them Feb. 7, 1998.
Even with the three losses, Syracuse is third in the Big East in scoring defense at 62.6 points per game, field-goal percentage defense at 38.8 and 3-point field-goal percentage defense at 30.3. Boeheim knows that a switch in defense would yield little benefit.
“We cannot play man-to-man. We have to play zone,” Boeheim said. “We have to work on our defense. It is our defense. Most teams have a dominant defense, and that’s the one they use. That’s our defense. We’ve got to do a better job with it.”
Offensively, the Orange need starting guards Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche to shake their recent funks. The two have shot a combined 20 for 63 (31.7 percent) during the losing streak, and Syracuse has shot 39.4 percent in its losses - well off its season mark of 47.2 percent.
Marquette (13-8, 4-4) will be playing the third game in a four-game stretch against Top 25 opponents, and is in need of a marquee win to bolster its NCAA tournament chances.
The Golden Eagles again struggled to put away an opponent Tuesday, losing 76-68 to No. 5 Connecticut at home. They allowed a 13-0 second-half run during a 10-minute stretch.
“We were so concerned on offense that we were ready to get the ball back and try to score on that end,” said forward Jimmy Butler, who had 21 points against the Huskies. “We weren’t even worried about guarding them on the defensive end of the floor.”
Marquette, which wraps up its challenging stretch at No. 8 Villanova on Wednesday, is 1-7 against ranked opponents.
Syracuse is the only Big East team Marquette has yet to beat since entering the conference in 2005, going 0-4. Last season, Kris Joseph had 14 points and 11 rebounds off the bench as the Orange shot 58.5 percent and won 76-71 on Jan. 23 in the only meeting.
Butler had 13 points while Darius Johnson-Odom - Marquette’s leading scorer at 16.5 points per game - had 17 in a reserve role.