Maybe these guys are lucky, or maybe they know what they’re doing.
Syracuse University’s basketball team has lost two games this season, to Pittsburgh and Louisville, and both defeats technically were upsets. SU was ranked fifth in the nation and Pitt was unranked when the Panthers won 82-72 Jan. 2. The Orange were ranked second and Louisville was unranked when the Cardinals won 66-60 Sunday.
Technically upsets, yeah, but as Louisville coach Rick Pitino said after Sunday’s game, this is the Big East. There are a lot of good teams. And SU being defeated by Jamie Dixon’s Panthers or Pitino’s Cardinals is hardly unusual. The Orange have not had a lot of success against either team in recent years. Pitt has won seven of its last eight games with SU since 2006. Louisville has won six in a row since 2007.
Those two teams certainly have not been intimidated by the Orange. Nor has Villanova. The Wildcats, who will visit a sold out Carrier Dome Feb. 27, seven of their last nine games against SU.
Why have Pitt, Louisville, and Villanova done so well against SU? It’s not luck. These are consistently strong programs, and so is SU. Sometimes streaks just happen. But Dixon, Pitino and Villanova’s Jay Wright are very good coaches who have well-prepared, talented players. And, maybe the biggest thing, they have learned to attack Jim Boeheim’s signature 2-3 defense in creative ways.
The 2-3 has proved itself. It is a weapon that SU uses well, and it throws many teams into confusion, and reduces others to playing simplistic, uninspired basketball. However, these guys have found ways to crack it, more than one, since they don’t use the same method every time down the court. They make the zone move, get the ball into the lane and at the high post consistently, and get a good number of high percentage shots.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Villanova attacks the zone on that big day at the end of the month, with nearly 35,000 people all but blowing the roof off the Dome.