California matchup promises zone-on-zone between two coaches, friends

first_imgSAN JOSE, Calif. — The story, as Jim Boeheim told it, is one of masculinity and defensive preference. Those who play man-to-man defense are, funnily enough, men. But those who play zone, a system rooted less in mano-a-mano masculinity and more on schematic principles are, well, not.At least in Mike Montgomery’s eyes.“He once asked my wife if I was wearing a skirt,” Boeheim said with a chuckle during his press conference Friday inside HP Pavilion. “So when we were watching last year I think it was, we texted immediately when he was playing zone to see if he was wearing a skirt as well.”It was a bit of humor exchanged between two coaches who have been friends for decades, two coaches who will face each other Saturday night with a berth in the Sweet 16 hanging in the balance. Syracuse and California tip at 9:40 p.m. EST.Boeheim’s Syracuse team, the fourth seed in the East Region, will certainly play zone against the Golden Bears, as it’s become his trademark over the years. But there’s a good chance Montgomery will employ one, too, attempting to challenge the Orange with a style of play that has frustrated Boeheim’s bunch at times this season. California is primarily a man-to-man team, but it mixed in zone effectively on occasion — most recently in Thursday’s win over UNLV — so Montgomery said it will be tested against Syracuse.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“He’s a man-to-man coach, he always has been,” Boeheim said, continuing the anecdote. “But I think you see really almost everybody play some zone now.”Saturday, then, could be a matchup of two teams using zone defenses — wearing skirts, as Montgomery once described it — though they will look markedly different. Boeheim uses a 2-3 zone in which his wings play extremely high, making it more of a 2-2-1 zone by appearance.Montgomery, on the other hand, chose a style that fit his personnel, which is a collection of tall, long-armed guards but not necessarily athletic swingmen. The result was the installation of a 3-2 zone, where the 6-foot-6 Allen Crabbe mans the perimeter as the point man to disrupt the opposing offense.“We didn’t use it a lot (this season),” California guard Justin Cobbs said. “We used it off and on, just matchup issues. And we felt like last night was a great time to use it with UNLV being such an isolation-oriented team that we got another guy in to help and guys to rebound and things like that.“We didn’t use it that much, but at the same time I think we’re great at that zone.”Montgomery noted that Syracuse, like UNLV in certain situations, relies on isolation-based offense for some of its more talented players. C.J. Fair often gets the ball in the low block and simply goes to work on his defender, while guards Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams do the same working in from the perimeter.It creates a scenario on Saturday in which the zone could be effective again.Triche, who said he had not seen film on the Golden Bears this year, watched a few minutes of their game against UNLV on Thursday. He said the 3-2 zone is similar to some of the match-up zones Syracuse faced this year, and the Orange faced plenty of them during a bit of a slide in the month of February.Georgetown, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Seton Hall and Marquette — four teams that beat Syracuse and one that hung tough for most of a game in the Big East tournament — all gave Syracuse a taste of its own medicine.California could be next.“They’re a good defensive team,” Boeheim said. “They play primarily man-to-man, but they do play a 3-2 matchup as well. During the course of the season you play teams that use both defenses, and particularly this year we’ve seen a lot of zone defense, more than usual at this stage of the year.”And when the Golden Bears take the floor against Syracuse, they will see a lot more zone than they have at any other point this season. Both Cobbs and Crabbe spoke at length about the size of the Syracuse defenders, how their long arms and lateral quickness cover nearly every part of the court.The key, they said, will be avoiding a “stagnant” offense. Making the zone move — forward and back, side to side — creates points of entry for open shots.But Montgomery noted that against this zone, the one Boeheim has perfected for more than three decades, breaking it down is easier said than done.“When you do something 35 times a year, 40 minutes a game for 30 years, somebody has got it figured out,” Montgomery said. “And they’ve been successful with it.”Even if it means wearing a figurative skirt. Comments Published on March 22, 2013 at 9:57 pm Contact Michael: [email protected] | @Michael_Cohen13 Related Stories Out of the national spotlight, California guard Crabbe quietly puts together sensational seasonCramming for California: What to know about Syracuse-CalQ&A with Golden Bears beat writer Jonathan Kuperberg of The Daily CalifornianCalifornia guard, Pac-12 Player of the Year Crabbe presents difficult challenge on perimeterSyracuse gives initial reactions to Round of 32 opponent Californiacenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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