Syracuse has advanced to the Final Four in large part to its outstanding zone defense.
Just how good have the Orange been on defense this postseason? The numbers below provide a good illustration.
Lowest Opponents' FG Pct
The Orange have allowed opponents to shoot 28.9 percent in the NCAA Tournament, the lowest percentage of any tournament team.
They have forced 67 turnovers. They have allowed 61 made baskets.
The Orange have held three of their four opponents to fewer than 50 points. Only Villanova in 1985 did that in games before the Final Four (shot-clock era).
Opponents have shot 22-for-123 (17.9 percent) outside the paint against Syracuse during the tournament, the best percentage of tournament teams who have played more than one game.
Lowest Opp FG Pct Outside Paint
NCAA Tournament (Min. 2 games)
All four of Syracuse’s opponents have shot under 28 percent from the floor outside the paint.
During the regular season, Syracuse’ opponents shot 29.7 percent when catching and shooting. In the 2013 Men’s Basketball Tournament, they have shot 15.8 percent.
Indiana came into the tournament scoring 115.3 points per 100 possessions, the best of any Big Six team.
On Thursday, Syracuse held them to 76.7 points per 100 possessions, their lowest rate since a December meeting with Wake Forest in 2008.
So how do you beat this zone?
The simple answer would be to make 3-pointers, but there was only team to shoot over 50 percent from 3-point range against Syracuse this season (Connecticut-- 57.1 percent in a win on Feb. 13).
One way to attack the zone that had some success for at least one team earlier this season is to pass the ball into the foul line extended area.
In the two games against the Orange this season, Gardner was 13-for-16 from the floor and scored 40 points. In Saturday’s Elite Eight matchup, Gardner made half of Marquette’s 12 baskets.
Gardner did much of his damage by receiving the ball at or near the foul line and going to work from there. On field goal attempts when he received a pass in that area, Gardner was 6-for-7 for 12 points, his one miss coming in the second half of the Elite Eight matchup.
It might be of use to Michigan to take a page out of Davante Gardner’s book if it is to overcome the Syracuse zone defense and move on to the championship game.