Friday, March 23, 2012

syracuse zone

Last night I watched the final 10 minutes or so of the Syracuse/Wisconsin game. Last week I saw nearly the entirety of the UNC-Asheville//Syracuse first round match-up.

For years, Syracuse University has played a zone, and only a zone, defense. A zone, for the uninitiated, is a defense which requires defenders to defend an area of the court--a zone--as opposed to playing a man to man defense. In a man to man, each player on the defense is assigned an individual on the offense to guard.

Purists like Bobby Knight and the retired coach at my alma mater, Dr. Richard Sauers, hate to play a zone. The man to man can be a more aggressive way to defend and also allows each person a specific assignment when it comes to screening off offensive players who attempt to get a rebound.

But Syracuse always, always, plays a zone. And the zone is confounding. It is confounding because sometimes it is so porous that a team like UNC Asheville which plays in a B level Big South conference is able to penetrate it for easy shots. Sometimes it is lazy so a University of Vermont team can easily shoot jump shots over it and defeat a much more talented squad. However, last night, the University of Wisconsin could not penetrate the zone for anything. They had fifteen seconds left at the end of the game to get in position for a winning shot. Fifteen seconds is a long time in basketball. They had to settle for a forced long shot which banged away allowing Syracuse to win. It seemed as if no pass could get inside of the zone and no passes could go anywhere but away from the basket.

There is an inverse metaphor here that applies to people. In one of my favorite books, I Know this Much is True the main character's stepfather's mantra for his stepkids is "defense, defense." Be careful about what can bruise you. Defend your heart.

It is wise to play a zone like Syracuse's in basketball. The object of the defending team is to make it different to score the goal. However, in life we want just the opposite. We want the zone that can be penetrated. Sure, we need to defend our heart some because otherwise selfish people will take advantage, but we do want to be able to let our guard down to permit others to penetrate us and reach our hearts. That is the goal.

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