Syracuse-Georgetown: Syracuse Zone Stifles, Orange Weather Hoyas' Hot Start

Bill GaffneyContributor IJanuary 26, 2010

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 20:  Wes Johnson #4 and Arinze Onuaku #21 of the Syracuse Orange celebrate after defeating the North Carolina Tar Heels in the championship game of the 2K Sports Classic on November 20, 2009 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Orange defeated the Tar Heels 87-71 to win the championship.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Georgetown Hoyas were statistically the Big East's No. 1 defense entering Monday night, but 40 long minutes at the Carrier Dome proved it is rival Syracuse who has the dominating unit.

After a trio of three-pointers by junior Austin Freeman helped stake the Hoyas to a 14-0 lead just three minutes into the game, the Orange zone intensified. Fueled by the energy of a raucous crowd, the hyper-active Syracuse defense seemingly covered every inch of the court and its size and length made getting to the rim nearly impossible.

The Orange proceeded to outscore the Hoyas 33-15 and held a five-point lead at the half. The second half was similarly one-sided and the 'Cuse cruised to a 73-56 victory.

Georgetown hit their first five shots—four of them three-pointers—but sputtered the rest of the way, struggling to find an open shot. The constant pressure from the zone forced them into a frenetic offense.

The Hoyas took 21 shots from behind the arc—many of them ill-advised—and only netted eight in all after knocking down their first four. Excessive jump-shooting coupled with 19 turnovers allowed Syracuse to run the floor offensively, which yielded easy buckets.

Alumnus Derrick Coleman led the cheering. He was waving a towel ferociously in support of the Syracuse big men especially, who were much more physical than the Hoyas' front line.

The Orange won the battle on the boards, blocked eight shots, and severely limited seven-footer Greg Monroe. The 2008-2009 Big East Freshman of the Year had only eight points and four rebounds. He also fouled out with over six minutes to play.

Syracuse shared the ball beautifully offensively. Seven different players scored—forward Kris Joseph had a team-high 15 off the bench—and no individual logged double-digit field goal attempts. However, it was Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone that was most impressive.

Any Georgetown player with the ball anywhere near the painted area experienced suffocating pressure from the Orange defenders, particularly 261-pound center Arinze Onuaku. He solidified the area around the rim and altered a slew of shots. Meanwhile, his teammates secured the perimeter or collapsed down around him when the ball went inside.

The Hoyas' two big-men, Monroe and 6'9" Julian Vaughn, only managed to combine for nine attempts. Driving efforts were often sent away as well, as Syracuse was exceptionally in sync.

The zone's wing players, forwards Rick Jackson and Wesley Johnson, displayed both their athleticism and wingspan. They accounted for seven of the eight rejections and assisted Onuaku greatly in pressuring the ball in the post.

With the game televised nationally, such a performance was likely alarming to upcoming opponents on the Orange's schedule. Georgetown entered the game ranked seventh in the AP Top 25 Poll with a record of 15-3. They were also winners of four of its last five, including a 19-point comeback against No. 19 UConn and a road victory at No. 17 Pittsburgh.

Once Syracuse got comfortably ahead though, there was never a serious threat of a comeback by the Hoyas. The Orange defense maintained its tenacity for the duration of the game, harassing all members of the Georgetown offense.

Despite pouring in 13 points in approximately eight minutes—nine of which came on three-pointers during the Hoyas' 14-0 run—Freeman finished with just 23 overall. James Clark contributed four three-pointers but no player made a significant impact after the initial surge. To extrapolate that point—not a single point came from a member of the Georgetown bench.

The resounding win was the 'Cuse's seventh in a row and improved their record to 20-1. It exemplified the strength of the team. Boeheim's 2-3 zone is stupefying and kinetic. It causes opponents to make mistakes, which in turn aids the Orange offensively.

We are still five weeks away from March, but the No. 4 Orange are currently playing as well as any team in the country. If they have in fact mastered their coach's famous zone, as it appears they have, they may very well play into spring.