With the changes in the way that contact is being called, college basketball has seen an increase in the number of fouls called and the number of free throws attempted in 2013-14. This has been one reason why scoring’s increased after being historically low last season; added opportunities to score by way of an “unchallenged” shot will have this kind of effect.
But have the changes also led to an increase in the use of zone defenses? That looks to be the case.
In a story written by Ben Cohen of the Wall Street Journal, a look at Synergy Sports Technology data has revealed that teams have played some kind of zone defense on 21.6% of possessions this season. According to the numbers that’s an increase of six percentage points from last season. And while a coach like Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim has used the zone for years and experienced a great deal of success, some diehard “man-to-man” proponents have even dabbled with a different defensive look in 2013-14.
The argument for the increased use of zone defense is that teams won’t foul as much, with this becoming more of a concern due to the increased number of foul calls. But according to Boeheim, the assumption that playing zone = your team won’t commit fouls is a misguided one.
Boeheim’s zone is back in demand partly because of the new emphasis in college basketball on curtailing defensive contact, which makes it more difficult to defend on the perimeter without racking up fouls. Boeheim, though, rejects the idea that Syracuse benefits by being fluent in zone already.
“It’s just not true,” he said. “Playing zone doesn’t mean you don’t foul. That’s ridiculous. People who say that don’t understand zone defense.”
The zone defenses being played by most college basketball teams aren’t your standard, run-of-the-mill recreational league zones, in which (generally speaking) weekend warriors stand in an area with the primary goal being to conserve energy in order to hoist shots on the other end. A lot of these defenses are highly active, and some even mix in some man-to-man principles (matchup zones) as well. And then there are your “junk” defenses, like the box-and-1 and triangle-and-2, that some coaches (UTEP’s Tim Floyd immediately comes to mind) have put to good use.
More teams employing zone looks was one assumption made when the new legislation was announced during the summer, and based on the numbers that has been the case. But just as there are questions regarding how strict officials will be when conference play begins, it also remains to be seen if teams continue to play more zone once faced with more “familiar” opponents.
No. 25 Texas A&M made a statement on Turkey Day, as they knocked off No. 10 Gonzaga 62-61 in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Danuel House led the way with 19 points for the Aggies while Tony Trocha-Morales finished with 14 points as Texas A&M picked up the win despite the fact that they did not score for the final eight minutes of the game.
Billy Kennedy’s club looked the part of an SEC contender, playing tough defense and keeping Gonzaga’s massive and talented front line in check. Perhaps most impressive was that they were able to hang on despite blowing a lead late in the second half, and that they did it with their defense. Gonzaga can score. They have big bodies inside and shooters to surround them, but Domantas Sabonis struggled with foul struggle throughout the game while Kyle Wiltjer did not score in the final 12 minutes.
Kentucky, at this point, is the clear-cut favorite in the SEC, and while Vanderbilt looked really good in Maui this week, A&M looks like they’re going to end up giving the Commodores a run for their money for second-best in the league.
On the other hand, this loss wasn’t a total disaster for the Zags. They had the final possession with a chance to be a good team on a day when Domantas Sabonis was rendered completely ineffective. And, more importantly, point guard Josh Perkins was terrific. He did have a late turnover, but he scored all 15 of his points in the second half as he helped keep the Zags within striking distance.
Texas A&M will play the winner of Syracuse and No. 18 UConn for the title.
GAME OF THE NIGHT: Syracuse vs. No. 18 UConn, 3:30 p.m.
For the first time since the Orange departed the Big East, the two former rivals will square off. Today’s battle will take place at the Battle 4 Atlantis, as the Orange knocked off Charlotte yesterday and the Huskies dispatched Michigan. To get ready for this battle, I’d suggest ready through the conversation @NoEscalators had with himself last night.
THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 25 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 Gonzaga, 1:00 p.m.
The other semifinal in the Battle 4 Atlantis could end up being just as good, as the Aggies — who might be the second best team in the SEC — square off with a Gonzaga team that has one of the best front lines in the country. This will be a good test to figure out just how good both of these teams are.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1. No. 20 Wichita State vs. USC, 2:00 p.m.: The Shockers will be without Fred VanVleet for this event. It will also be a chance for us to gauge just how good this 4-0 USC team is.
2. No. 23 Xavier vs. Alabama, 12:00 p.m: The Musketeers should have no problems dispatching Alabama.
3. No. 8 Villanova vs. Stanford, 4:30 p.m.: The Wildcats are, once again, as good as any team in the country. Josh Hart might be the nation’s most underrated star.
4. No. 14 Cal vs. San Diego State, 12:00 a.m.: Tyrone Wallace and company have been awesome this season. They get their first real test of the season tonight.
5. Providence vs. Evansville, 7:00 p.m.: Evansville is one of the nation’s best mid-majors, good enough to give the likes of Wichita State and Northern Iowa a fight in the Missouri Valley. And Providence? They got a kid named Kris Dunn. Heard of him?
THE REST OF THE TOP 25
- No. 3 Michigan State vs. Boston College, 6:30 p.m.
- No. 11 Arizona vs. Santa Clara, 11:30 p.m.
- No. 17 Notre Dame vs. Monmouth, 6:30 p.m.