Syracuse defense finally reveals itself in stifling performance against Florida State

It’s hard to win in Tallahassee. Really hard. Leonard Hamilton’s Florida State Seminoles had won 25 consecutive conference games at the Donald L. Tucker Center. FSU was trying to match Duke’s ACC record for most consecutive home conference wins, but Syracuse had other ideas.

The Orange used an offensive blast in the second half to erase an eight-point halftime deficit resulting from an abysmal shot. SU only scored 24 points in the first 20 minutes of play. However, Syracuse was still in the game for one reason: its defense.

This defense entered this game after allowing more than 80 points in four of its last five games. SU had also allowed 100 points twice in seven games. The last time this happened in an entire season was the 2008-09 campaign. So it’s safe to say that head coach Jim Boeheim’s carded area hadn’t worked.

My boy, has that changed against the Seminoles. SU once again used their new 1-1-3 hybrid that looks like a 1-3-1 to complete the traditional 2-3 zone. Orange have never used this defense under coach Boeheim. “He was writing it on a napkin the other day,” Syracuse goalkeeper Buddy Boeheim said of his father’s new wrinkle.

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim is frustrated with a call in his team’s game against Florida State.

Either way, it certainly worked. Orange held the Seminoles to 32 points in the first half. This kept the Orange close at hand. FSU added just 28 goals in the second half, allowing Orange to wipe out their deficit when the offense finally found its way.

The numbers speak for themselves. FSU was held to just 22/63 (34.9%) on field goals and 4/30 (13.3%) from beyond the arc. The Seminoles have scored just 60 points, their second weakest result of the season. It’s tied for the lowest total the Orange has allowed so far. Syracuse also held Drexel to 60 in his second game of the season.

It goes beyond the numbers. SU also passed the eye test. Prior to this game, the zone rotation had been, to say the least, horrible. Forwards Jimmy Boeheim, Cole Swider and Benny Williams just didn’t know where they needed to be and when. Their lack of rotation put center Jesse Edwards in a terrible position, constantly having to choose between allowing a 15-foot open jumper or an undisputed ally behind him. Today was obviously better. The Wings have been more active in their rotations, covering their end of the market in a defense that takes all five men working in unison to succeed. Unlike most of the first seven games, the backline was protected by these three forwards.

Syracuse forwards Cole Swider (left) and Jimmy Boeheim (right) as well as center Jesse Edwards (middle, orange) defend a push towards the basket from Florida State goalie Caleb Mills (white).

Florida State Athletics

Syracuse forwards Cole Swider (left) and Jimmy Boeheim (right) as well as center Jesse Edwards (middle, orange) defend a push towards the basket from Florida State goalie Caleb Mills (white).

Outside shot is always a weakness that can be exploited against area 2-3. Coach Boeheim denounced his team’s defense after the Indiana game on Tuesday for allowing too many open glances. On Saturday, however, he praised it, saying, “We were there. We have them a little unbalanced compared to the three. Here is that word again: active. SU was active when they shut down on FSU shooters, so a team that shot 38% more than respectable out of three looks really bad.

The zone (s) take time to learn. It happens every year. It’s not often that it looks as bad as it did at the start of this season, but, if this game was any indication, maybe it will happen this year as it always seems to. Only time will tell if this will actually be the case.

This defense, and the SU as a whole, faces its biggest challenge yet when Syracuse travels to Madison Square Garden to face No.6 Villanova on Tuesday. Jim Boeheim training in the Garden against a Big East power station. It seems fair. WAER will have full coverage of it starting with the GZA countdown to Tipoff at 9 p.m. with a game time set at 9:30 a.m.

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