Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pitarresi: Jackson, Onuaku make a defensive difference


It was fine road trip by the Syracuse University basketball team, winning three in a row on the road.


The victory at Notre Dame might have been most impressive. The Irish aren’t a great team, but they were playing on their floor, led by one of the Big East’s top players, Luke Harangody.


Harangody got his points (31) and rebounds (14), as he almost always does, but SU won going away. The best thing about it was how the Orange responded after their 10-point lead was whittled down to just two with 9:47 to play. They pulled away little by little, and put the game away. There was the danger of a fold up there, and the SU players didn’t let it happen.


Notre Dame obviously got inside the SU zone pretty well – 26 points in the paint, and you’d think other Big East teams will notice how Harangody was deployed in an unorthodox way on the baseline behind the 2-3 setup – but that defense has been pretty good all season. Opponents are shooting just 38 percent against SU, which leads the nation at the other end of the floor, hitting 53 percent. A lot has been made of the zone’s new-found activity and “length,” and that sure helps, but another reason for the defensive success is sheer bulk.


Wes Johnson is, admittedly, a slim 6-feet-7 (not likely) and 205 pounds (doubtful), and is a great athlete and sensational leaper who is second on the team with 35 blocks. But Rick Jackson (6-9, 240) who has 37 blocks, and Arinze Onuaku (6-9, 261) are true hulks. They make it very difficult for opposing big men whether they block shots or not, simply by taking up room. Really, big guys or guards, anyone who is able to get inside of the SU zone still has to deal with two very large bodies that actually move pretty well. A great many times, they are forced to take off-balance shots or put up weak attempts.


No one ever seems to say Jackson and Onuaku are outstanding defensive players, and maybe they aren’t, but they don’t have to be. They cause problems in there for the opposition, and they do make a defensive difference.


There is a long way to go, and there a lot of very good teams in the Big East, but Jackson and Onuaku are making a big difference on defense.


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